Lately I have discovered Off West End / Fringe Theatre – no, not Edinburgh, the London Fringe. I have been aware of these smaller venues for a while but had never bothered to make an effort to go to one. Why would you bother going to see something non-mainsteam when there are so many wonderful shows to see in the West End?
It turns out there are several reasons.
These fringe venues are cosy and intimate, and with seating for fewer than 500 people you are much closer to the performance. They are often in unusual venues all over London, many of them central, a church hall, a former factory, the back room or even upstairs in a pub. Although they don’t bring you the grandeur of a night at the West End they are ideal for a more casual night out.
The cost is also a very good reason to try Fringe Theatre, tickets are a lot cheaper than for most West End performances. Tickets average about £15-20 which DOES leave change for a meal and your train ride home, or it is absolutely perfect if you work in London and looking for something different to do before travelling home.
The Fringe tends to experiment more than commercial theatre, it supports new ventures, new writing, takes risks. With a West End relying more and more on Jukebox musicals and safe bets, this does make a refreshing change. Quite often a show will try out in these smaller venues so see what the public reaction is before opening in the West End so it is possible that you will be one of the first to see a future hit.
An example is Urinetown which opened at the St. James’ Theatre, which just so happens to be the nearest Off West End Theatre to Victoria. I loved Urinetown and am happy to say that it has now received a transfer into the commercial ‘West End’ and opens at the end of September at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue which is only 20mins walk away from the St. James’ – with many of the original cast.
I hope to get the chance to see it again. Although I must admit part of it’s charm was the intimate venue, it will be interesting to see how it fares on a bigger stage. The Scottsboro Boys which originated at the Young Vic will also soon open at the Garrick Theatre.
Only a few weeks ago you may have seen my review of ‘Marry Me a Little’ at the adorable St. James’ Studio (downstairs from the Theatre). A show featuring two actors, one pianist and a tiny room. It was a great night out with my friends. Very close to catch the train too. It was so popular it is running again from the 6th-11th Oct, book tickets NOW!
I was taken to see Neil LaBute’s Autobahn at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington courtesy of Officialtheatre.com with other theatre bloggers. That was a charming night, in the backroom of a pub (although the seats were mightily uncomfortable I must say). The set was just a backdrop of a road, and half of a car. And last night I went to Jermyn Street Theatre, just off Piccadilly Circus to see a new musical Return of the Soldier. These shows are running through September and there will be more about them in my next blogs.
Unfortunately it has also come to my attention that many of these venues are struggling for money (aircon and nicer seats would have been nice at the King’s Head) they are often charities and /or rely heavily on sponsorship and grants. It would be nice if they only have 100 seats that they were filled on a regular basis. Take a look….Google ‘Off West End’…..look at www.offwestend.com . I think you’ll be very surprised what is on offer.
My point is this : accessible, affordable and inspiring. I love the glamour and excitement of a West End Theatre, that will never change but I am very glad my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of exciting theatre, there may be some dross but there are some gems and I must admit it is nice to say….’well I saw that when ……. ‘