From their roots in sticky floors and makeshift wings, these venues have grown into fully-fledged theatres showcasing some of the most exciting new work and voices. So we’re raising a glass to London’s best pub theatres with this ultimate guide.
Founded in the early 90s, Barons Court Theatre is well-known as the home of new writing, classic theatre, and even magic. Nestled in the basement of the Curtains Up pub, just a short walk from Barons Court station, the 52-seat theatre’s lineup has included everything from Shakespeare and Sophocles to short runs of celebrated new plays.
This 40- to 60-seat award-winning venue sits atop the Bread and Roses pub between Clapham North and Wandsworth Road stations. The theatre cites “a focus on new writing, underrepresented voices, [and] distinctive work” as its main programming drive and is a keystone of Clapham Fringe, which was founded by the Bread and Roses team in 2015.
A stone’s throw from Penge West station, the Bridge House Theatre can be found on the first floor of the Bridge House pub. With a black box design and 60-seat capacity, the versatile venue programs shows that are socially conscious and representative and offers an accessible pay-what-you-can ticketing scheme. The Bridge House Theatre is also known for its popular Live From the Bridge House stand-up comedy nights.
Found in southeast London by Crofton Park station, the Brockley Jack Theatre (also known as the Jack Studio Theatre) is a 50-seat black box venue in the Brockley Jack pub that plays host to a varied programme of theatre, film screenings, scratch nights, and workshops. The theatre has won multiple Off West End and London Pub Theatre Awards and was a finalist in Time Out’s Best Loved Cultural Space award.
The home of comedy and cabaret in West London since 1979, the Canal Cafe Theatre is a 60-seat venue on top of the Bridge House Pub in Little Venice. The canal-side theatre is best known for its multi-award-winning current affairs sketch show NewsRevue, which holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running live comedy show and has turned out stars like Sara Pascoe, Bill Bailey, and the League of Gentlemen.
Situated above the 19th-century Drayton Arms pub in South Kensington, the Drayton Arms Theatre began life as a post-war rehearsal room for actors from a new institution called BBC TV. Now, it’s a fully functioning 51-seat black box fringe venue that’s home to new writing, musicals, and revivals — with the occasional panto thrown in for good measure.
Etcetera was founded in 1986 above the Oxford Arms in Camden Town. Over the years, the venue has launched the careers of multiple comedians including Simon Amstell, Al Murray, Milton Jones, and Russell Howard. It has also premiered several productions that transferred to the West End, including The Westwoods by Alan Ayckbourn, Blue Jam by Chris Morris, Peccadillo Circus by Lizzie Roper, and Porcelain by Chay Yew.
Just around the corner from West Brompton station, the 50-seat Finborough Theatre can be found on the first floor of the Finborough Arms. One of London’s longest-running pub theatres, the Finborough was established in 1980 and has built a reputation for launching the careers of some of the best new writers. Notable performances include It Is Easy To Be Dead (by the theatre’s own Artistic Director, Neil McPherson), which transferred to the West End for an Olivier-nominated run in 2016.
Created by the Artistic Director of the White Bear Theatre, the Golden Goose is an impressive 100-seat venue attached to the Golden Goose pub in Camberwell. A relatively new space, opening in 2020, the theatre has already played host to multiple Offie Award-winning productions. Its inaugural in-house play A Rat, A Rat by Chloe Yates was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Playwriting from Paines Plough and won a Standing Ovation Award from London Pub Theatres.
One of the oldest pub theatres since Shakespeare’s era, the King’s Head Theatre was founded in 1970 in the old boxing room of the King’s Head pub in Islington. With Artistic Director Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and F***ing, Some Explicit Polaroids, The Cut) at the helm, the 110-seat space is renowned for its bold and irreverent programming and has hosted premieres by Steven Berkoff, Victoria Wood, and Tom Stoppard.
Another of London’s well-established pub theatres, this 60-seat venue is located in the Old Red Lion, which was built in 1415 and is one of the capital’s oldest-running pubs. The theatre has played host to the likes of Nina Raine, Kathy Burke, Penelope Skinner, and Stephen Daldry and premiered a number of famous productions that went on to West End runs, including Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong and Arthur Miller’s first play No Villain.
Nestled above the Horseshoe Pub in Hampstead Village, Pentameters theatre has an impressive alumni list that includes Ted Hughes, Harold Pinter, French and Saunders, Ade Edmondson, Jenny Seagrove, Celia Imrie, Ben Elton, and Alexei Sayle. Founded in 1968, the theatre maintains its reputation as a home for emerging talent and its recent production of Viv Edwards’ The Bevin Boys won the London Pub Theatre Standing Ovation (New Play Raising Awareness) Award in 2020.
Also known as The Rosie, the quirky Victorian Rosemary Branch pub sits on the border of Hackney and Islington, next to the Regent’s Canal. Upstairs, you’ll find the 60-seat Rosemary Branch Theatre, an inclusive space known for its feminist, LGBTQ+, and family-friendly shows. It’s also one of the only London pub theatres to have its own two-seater “Royal Box”. Expect everything from theatre and comedy to puppetry, improv, drag, cabaret, and burlesque.
Home to the production company Unrestricted View, the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar is a 54-seat venue with a diverse programme of theatre, film festivals, stand-up comedy, sketch shows, improv, and experimental new writing. The intimate space mirrors the cosy Victorian pub below and can be found in the heart of Highbury, by Highbury & Islington station. Notable productions include The Existence Formula by Sarah Rickman, which transferred to the Tristan Bates theatre after a run at the Hen & Chickens for Camden Fringe.
Originally the function room of the famous Hope & Anchor pub, this multi-award-winning black box theatre opened in 2013. Since then, the 50-seat venue has become known for premiering bold new writing and has seen several plays transferred to the West End — including Ushers and Snoo Wilson's Lovesong of the Electric Bear. Its striking programming has made it a regular feature on the Offies and the London Pub Theatre Awards lists.
The eclectic Lion & Unicorn pub sits a few streets away from Kentish Town station and is home to the Lion & Unicorn theatre — a 60-seat black box venue run by the Proforca Theatre Company since 2019. The theatre is a mainstay of the Camden Fringe and its associate artists include ChewBoy Productions, Fantastic Garlands, Fight or Flight, HiddenViewz, Hideout, The Lady Garden Theatre Company, and Tiny Theatre.
The Tabard Theatre, formerly known as the Chiswick Playhouse, can be found on top of the Tabard pub, just round the corner from Turnham Green station. Since its inception in 1985, the pub theatre has seen several premieres transfer to the West End, including Russell Labey’s New Boy and Leon Parris’ musical Wolfboy. Nowadays, the 78-seat venue is run by Take Note Theatre, who program a variety of shows from revivals and musicals to new writing and comedy.
Winner of the London Pub Theatre of the Year 2021, Theatre503 can be found above Battersea’s famous The Latchmere pub. Dedicated to promoting new and emerging voices, the venue has won two Olivier awards and many of its premiers have transferred to the West End, including its inaugural adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (attended by the writer himself) and the critically-acclaimed The Mountaintop by Katori Hall — which also premiered on Broadway in 2011, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.
Unsurprisingly, Upstairs At The Gatehouse theatre can be found… upstairs at The Gatehouse pub at the top of Highgate Hill. The flexible space is one of London’s largest pub theatres and can seat anywhere from 70 to 142. It’s known both for its classic revivals and the musicals produced by its resident company Ovation Theatre but opens up its programming to new writing annually as part of the Camden Fringe.
Founded in 1988 at the 18th-century White Bear pub, just down the road from Kennington station, the White Bear theatre is a long-established venue that has worked with the likes of Emily Watson, Vickey Jones, Tamzin Outhwaite, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Mark Little, and Vicky Featherstone. The 50-seat black box space is especially known for its Lost Classics Project, which has seen revivals of lost works by John Osborne, J.P. Donleavy, Thomas Dekker, John Webster, and Sylvia Rayman.