London's Best Off-West End Theatre










Stepping out of Shaftesbury Avenue’s shadow

With an abundance of award-winning shows gracing London’s main stages, it can be easy to forget to venture to the smaller theatres. However, an exploration of the quieter streets outside Theatreland can present the chance to see future hits prior to a West End transfer or watch famous actors up close.

Our Theatre team takes a look at what’s in the pipeline at its favourite lesser-known venues, from hit US transfers to revivals of old classics.

Best for transfers from New York

Southwark Playhouse
Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD

Having hosted the UK premieres of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights – currently at King’s Cross Theatre – Carrie the Musical and Grey Gardens, this studio space has a strong reputation for
introducing the latest works from across the Atlantic.

The Toxic Avenger makes its UK debut from 22 April. The Tony Award-winning duo behind Memphis the Musical, Joe DiPietro and David Bryan have joined forces again to create a rock ‘n’ roll musical version of the 1984 cult classic film about the slimy superhero.

Side Show will be showing from 21 October, following a successful Manhattan run in 2014. With a soundtrack by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger, the musical documents the true story of
conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, as they step into the blinding spotlight of vaudeville theatre in 1920a America.

Best for seeing hits in the making

St James Theatre
Palace Street, SW1E 5JA

This 312-seat house has hosted huge successes including McQueen, Urinetown: The Musical and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday, all of which transferred to the West End. Last year, Lloyd Webber entered into negotiations to buy the site as a place to test shows before putting on full-scale productions.

Led by a strong quartet of female actors, including Maureen Lipman and Olivier Award-winning Katie Brayben (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should is in safe hands when it opens on 13 April.

Hot on the ladies’ heels, Sideways will open on 26 May. The Rex Pickett novel has already inspired an Academy Award-winning film and the stage adaptation will be directed by David Grindley. Wine, lost love, new acquaintances and California sunshine combine to tell the hilarious tale of two best friends running away from their respective midlife crises.

Best for heart-warming tales

Charing Cross Theatre
Villiers Street, WC2N 6NL

Tucked away in the arches under Charing Cross station, this former Victorian music hall stages a variety of productions and the current season features four wonderful musicals.

Having garnered high praise when it debuted in London in 2013, the internationally acclaimed musical Titanic returns to the capital on 28 May.

Keeping the British theme, Radio Times from Noel Gay – the writer of Me and My Girl – commences its run on 20 August. The musical follows a radio crew doing their bit for morale during the Blitz, while trying to hold down romantic ties and break into the American market.

A revival of Ragtime arrives on 8 October to liven up the chilly autumn evenings. In 1998, the musical adaptation of EL Doctorow’s novel won four Tony Awards. It will arrive in London under direction from Thom Southerland and we can’t wait to hear the soundtrack of gospel and, of course, ragtime rhythms.

From 3 December, the Tony Award-winning team behind Titanic, Maury Yeston, Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone, present the UK premiere of their sophomore production Death Takes a Holiday. As the inspiration for the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, the story highlights how precious life is and how love can transcend death.

Best for seeing big names in small spaces

It would be tough to single out just one theatre for this accolade, so we’ve chosen our top three, featuring stars of stage and screen.

Shakespeare is everywhere this year, as the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death is honoured. Fresh from receiving critical acclaim for his roles at the National Theatre and the Old Vic, Ralph Fiennes will star in Richard III at the Almeida Theatre from 6 June. Vanessa Redgrave will take the role of the king’s mother in the production directed by Rupert Goold.

A little further along the Thames, the Old Vic closes its current season with a musical adaptation of the 1993 film Groundhog Day from 11 July, starring Tony Award-nominee Andy Karl. Comedian Tim Minchin is writing the music and lyrics, and – following his huge success with Matilda the Musical – we’re excited to see where he takes the new comedy.

Elsewhere in London, we’re looking forward to seeing Broadway favourite Kerry Ellis in the cosy 350- seat Arts Theatre as she takes the lead in Murder Ballad. Having received glowing reviews during its off-Broadway run, this dark musical will make its UK debut from 29 September.

Pictured: My Mother Said I Never Should, rehearsals, courtesy of Mark Douet