Top Shakespeare theatres in the UK
Shakespearean productions pop up all over the capital, but audiences far and wide can still see works by the Bard. There’s iconic locations which are enveloped in centuries of Shakespearean history and traditions. However, there’s also gorgeous open-air locations which tend to stage Shakespeare plays in the summertime.
Discover the top Shakespeare theatres in the UK with us, including venues in London and further afield. There’s even a map at the bottom with all the theatres, so you can go ahead and visit your nearest theatre.
What are the top Shakespeare theatres in the UK?
First opened in 1599, Shakespeare’s Globe was built by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an Elizabethan company that the Bard would write for. In fact, Macbeth and Hamlet were first seen by audiences at the Globe. A mixture of greater demand and fires meant that the theatre was rebuilt and renovated multiple times; it had to shut down in 1642 thanks to a Puritan Obedience law which banned all live performances.
The Shakespeare’s Globe which stands on the South Bank today is a reconstruction of the original, opening in 1997. Audiences can imagine what it’d be like to see a show centuries ago, with “groundlings” standing in the auditorium for an entire play. There’s no roof or lighting rig either, so shows really are stripped back to basics. You’ll have to watch out if it rains too.
Now, Shakespeare’s Globe is home to revivals and new works, staged from April - November. Got to make the most of the natural sunlight!
When Shakespeare’s Globe reopened in 1997, a smaller, indoor theatre opened in conjunction. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is named after Sam Wanamaker, an artistic director and actor crucial to keeping the Globe alive in London. Unfortunately, he passed away before the theatre opened on 9 Jan. 2014, yet the venue was dedicated to him, honouring his theatrical legacy.
Dramatic classics are usually performed in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, typically in a winter season from November to April. Keeping it in tune with the Globe though, productions are predominantly lit by candlelight.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
As the home of William Shakespeare, it’s no surprise really that Stratford-upon-Avon has a theatre named after him. Situated on the bank of the River Avon, the theatre originally opened in 1932 as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Even the venue's construction made history, as it was the first theatre to be designed by a female architect. Renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to line up with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the theatre was renovated and reopened in 2010, regularly staging Shakespeare classics. New works also enjoy world premieres too, including The Boy in the Dress, which was due to open at the Savoy Theatre in 2020.
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Continuing the Stratford-upon-Avon theme, the Swan Theatre stages works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries in an intimate setting. It’s connected to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but is somewhat of a dwarf to its bigger counterpart, with just 426 seats. The performance space opened in 1986 with The Two Noble Kinsmen, thought to be Shakespeare’s final piece he published. Recent revivals of centuries-old plays to have been staged there include Aphra Behn’s 1634 play The Rover and Dido, Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe.
Okay, so the National may not solely focus on Shakespeare. But whenever a new season is announced, it’s likely a Shakespeare play will feature, either in its pure form or a play inspired by his work. The National took a long time to open though, with campaigns taking place for over a century before it was built on the Southbank. In recent years, notable Shakespeare productions include Antony and Cleopatra starring legends Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, Macbeth starring Rory Kinnear and King Lear starring Simon Russell Beale.
Productions at the National are often filmed, allowing audiences worldwide to access their shows. In particular, we’re looking forward to Romeo & Juliet starring Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor.
The Barbican Centre is more than just a theatre, it’s a day out. With art galleries, cinemas and a concert hall in its roomy repertoire, a trip to London isn’t complete without a visit to the Barbican. Shakespeare fans can also look to winter seasons at the Barbican’s theatre, as the Royal Shakespeare Company present a trio of productions for a Christmas run. If you can’t attend shows in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Barbican gives audiences a second chance, or it’s an opportunity to see your favourite Shakespeare play over and over again.
The Willow Globe, Powys, Wales
Cross the Welsh border for a truly enchanting experience at the Willow Globe (Y Glôb Byw). Inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the Willow has been welcoming audiences for over 25 years, and is one-third of the size. But, what it may lack in stage space, it more than makes up for in its ambience. The Willow is perfect for outdoor productions of all Shakespeare shows, especially suited to the fairies in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Viola in Twelfth Night.
Brownsea Open Air Theatre, Dorset
Hop aboard a ferry and escape real life with a trip to Brownsea Open Air Theatre. Since 1964, Dorset residents have come together to stage an annual production of a Shakespeare play on this famous island. Starting with The Tempest, they’ve performed 28 different plays, and are set to continue in 2021 and into the future.
Did you know that Benito Mussolini is part of the reason why Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre was built? After his play flopped in the West End, an outdoor, open-air venue was constructed to give his play a new lease of life. Now, productions at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are highly praised, including its annual Shakespeare revivals; a staple part of every summer season.
Minack Theatre, Cornwall
Right on the coast and just four miles away from England’s most southerly-point, plan a trip to the Minack immediately. Early productions at the Minack included The Tempest, performed with the sea as a backdrop. With the waves lapping up against the shore, it’s no surprise that dramas are performed here annually, with over 20 plays staged here a year.