With festival season upon us, including most of the comedy world heading north for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we don’t do badly ourselves in North London for entertainment value. Rachel Center picks her nine best North London theatres and looks at what’s to come this season
1 Sadler’s Wells
If dance is a conversation between the body and soul, then Sadler’s Wells is its centre stage. One of London’s premiere dance houses, Sadler’s Wells hosts an impressive selection of performances year round including ballet, tango, flamenco, Bollywood, Hip Hop, and many other contemporary and classic dance types from around the globe. Eclectic as it is vibrant, Sadler’s Wells is always on the forefront of emerging dance talent, recruiting renowned choreographers to be their Associate Artists, including Michael Bourne, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and Akram Khan, to name a few.
Today, Sadler’s Wells stands tall as the second oldest theatre in London, equipped with a diverse line-up of outstanding acts. This summer, look out for Sadler’s Sampled Festival, a two week engagement that will feature Dada Masilo’s interpretation of Swan Lake and Rian, a contemporary celebration of Ireland’s roots. There is also collection of dance duets from Sadler’s Wells associate artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and many other talks and activities related to dance. Also make sure to keep an eye out for appearances by the TAO dance theatre, the Nederlands Dans Theatre, Flash Mob, and the hit show Brasil Brasileiro, which showcases the life and spirit of Brazilian dance.
2 Little Angel Theatre
Situated in a quaint little corner on Dagmar Passage, Little Angel Theatre is the only one of its kind in London, and one of only three puppetry theatres in the whole of England. Established in 1961, this once abandoned temperance hall was brought back to life with the help of puppet legend, and Little Angel founder, John Wright. Wright and his band of passionate puppeteers transformed the space from a derelict dump to a sanctuary for story-telling that has since created 30 full-scale shows. Originally designed for younger audiences and marionette shows, the theatre has loosened its age range and style over the years to include more mature subject matter, opening up the magic of puppetry story-telling to an entirely different audience.
Along with producing top of the line puppet productions, Little Angel Theatre also offers professional training courses for those looking to master the art of puppeteering including a voice master class, a marionette carving workshop, and evening how-to’s on writing for puppetry. This summer’s roster includes adaptations of classics such as The Jungle Book and Lewis Caroll’s Alice, as well as Fireside Tales with Grandpa and the two night exclusive The Puppet Whisperer, a completely improvised performance between Little Angel’s new artistic director Adam Bennett and Theatre-rites artistic director Sue Buckmaster
3 King’s Head Theatre
Stop by for a quick pint – or, at least, that was what Henry VIII allegedly used to do on that same plot of land on the way to see one of his many mistresses. Cleverly named after this rumoured routine, the King’s Head Theatre Pub, previously known as the King’s Head Tavern, was founded by Dan Crawford in 1970. Crawford had a vision, and turned a room that was once used for boxing and pool into a space for the arts. The first theatre pub since Victorian Times, the King’s Head Theatre sets the benchmark in fringe theatre having featured some of today’s most famous faces, including Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Steven Berkoff, Clive Owen, Ben Kingsley and Gary Oldman.
UpClose productions have taken residence in the King’s Head Theatre, hosting theatre companies and producing eight shows a year. This summer, the King’s Head will be hosting three productions: The House of Bernarda Alba, an adaptation of a Federico Garcia Lorca play; the post-war About Miss Julie; and Patience, a witty examination of artistic movements and meaningless fads from W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.
4 Old Red Lion Theatre
Tucked away upstairs inside one of London’s oldest public houses, the Old Red Lion Theatre is definitely small, but nonetheless roaring with unique theatrics. Since opening its doors 34 years ago, the theatre’s mission has been to find, support and present up-and-coming theatre talent to the public. The theatre has upheld that promise flawlessly, having successfully transferred work off-Broadway and to the West End.
This summer, they have a strong round up of productions including an adaptation of James Joyce’s Chamber Music, Barrie Keeffe’s reworking of his own play My Girl 2, and The Quant, which is part performance lecture, part character study that focuses around the world of high finances. Also on tap is Mugs Arrow, a black comedy set in your local pub, and Pictures of John Gray, a sequel to Pictures of Dorian Gray, which is a story about what life is like after being nestled in the arms of Oscar Wilde’s imagination.
5 Pleasance Theatre
Think the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but without the travel. The Pleasance Theatre in Islington is an extension of the famed theatre of the same name in Edinburgh, which houses performances put on by the fringe festival. Unlike the Plesasance Edinburgh, which only opens during the summer, the Pleasance in Islington hosts plays all year round.
Since its inception, the Pleasance Theatre has lent its stage to some of Britain’s top comics including Russell Brand, Graham Norton, Bill Bailey, Micky Flanagan, The Mighty Boosh and many more. The space has also been turned into a film set, having been featured in television such as Spaced and Love Soup, in addition to Peter O’Toole’s most recent film, Venus. This summer features a robust roster of shows including 57 Edinburgh preview shows and seven other performances that will run from the end of May until August. Performances range from classics such as Dracula and Little House of Horrors, to personalities such as Jeremy Paxman.
6 Arcola Theatre
Why go to the West End when you can go to the East End? Creative hubbubs like the Arcola Theatre are working round the clock to churn out the latest and greatest in the theatrical arts. Located in an old paint factory in Hackney, Arcola’s aim is to ‘push the boundaries in terms of quality of work, but also in challenging assumptions about what youth and community theatre can (and should) be doing in the 21st century.’ They have achieved this goal through offering a diverse range of genres to their audiences including classics, comedy, drama, music, and new writing in the last 14 years that they have been open.
What really sets Arcola apart from many theatres of its kind is their extensive educational opportunities for aspiring artists. Not only do they offer four age specific community theatre groups for people to join, but also provide master classes, workshop groups, tours, talks, and events to aid interested patrons in their artistic development by giving them the skills necessary to succeed in the theatre world. Covering subject matter from writing, acting, and even science and technology, Arcola creates a comfortable home for promising talent across the capital – or anyone with a dream. This summer promises to be a memorable one with 17 new productions including the classic American musical Carousel and How to Make Your Soul Grow, a tale inspired by the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut. Another honourable mention is Boy, the true story of Jack Cornwall and his incredible service during WW1.
7 Jackson’s Lane
A truly standout characteristic of one of North London’s most creative spaces is that the theatre company is housed in an old, yet pristine red-bricked gothic church, whose beauty inspires its performers to create works as timeless as the theatre itself. Not only is Jackson’s Lane’s space a stage, but also a dance studio, cafe and bar all in one, making it a place where one can create and innovate, as well as get the necessary fuel to do so.
Jackson’s Lane is known for its experimental visual theatre, particularly contemporary dance and circus performance. It is actually one of the UK’s leading producers of circus performance, with the building able to make space for an aerial theatre, a German wheel and acrobats. Another unique feature of Jackson’s Lane is their adult and children’s theatre, which offer a variety of performances to please both audiences, so no age group is left empty handed. The highlight of the summer will be their annual Postcard Festival on 8 June, which shows off the theatre’s true skills with performances focusing on circus and the art of Cabaret. Also on tap are the FirstSteps School of Dance; a new circus production entitled Midnight Circus; The Fourth Monkey, which is 1950’s period piece focused on the ugly side of the restaurant culture; and The Ice Man, a love story centered around climate change.
8 Hen & Chickens Theatre
Another gem brought to you courtesy of the pub, Hen & Chickens theatre is a charming but small black box-style space, seating a mere 54 people. Situated atop a Victorian pub, it provides a cozy atmosphere that allows audience members to get up close and personal with the performance and its characters. Opened for over 25 years now, the Hen & Chickens theatre has seen many styles of performance art including new writing, musicals, comedy and classic theatre. They are also famous for holding rehearsed readings, scratch nights, and feature two months of Edinburgh previews every summer.
Hen & Chickens Theatre tends to focuses on more light-hearted productions, and select as such based on ‘fun, relevance, humour, exploration of ideas, and enjoyment.’ It’s hard not to find a well thought out, quality story at Hen & Chickens. Famous past performers of this theatre include Jimmy Carr, Rhona Cameron and Frankie Boyle. An exciting bill of 27 shows will run from June to July, three of which are Edinburgh previews. Anticipated shows include The Beta Males, Ben Hart, The Grandees, Lizzie Bates, David Morgan, and I Am Not Malala, which is a one woman show about life as a British Asian.
9 Rosemary Branch Theatre
Don’t be fooled: what lies inside this incredibly ordinary and unassuming Victorian exterior is a vibrant local treasure. The Rosemary Branch Theatre’s name was inspired by the left-wing group The Levellers, who held meetings during the 17th century at a tavern close by. The sprig of Rosemary that the Levellers wore in their hats is what gave the theatre its name today. During the time that this building was exclusively a music hall, it was rumoured to have shared its stage with Marie Lloyd, Little Titch and even Charlie Chaplin.
Today, the Rosemary Branch Theatre, much like the Arcola, is one of many creative centres helping put East End theatrics on the map. Under the direction of artistic directors Cleo Sylvestre and Cecilia Darker, whose backgrounds vary from dancing to acting, Rosemary Branch has put on a broad range of artistic endeavours that have incorporated many different branches performance, and through this have created a safe haven for individuals from throughout London to flourish creatively. This summer they have four shows lined up: The Trial of the Jew Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice; an appearance by musician Alexander the Great; The Red Tree, an acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe show, which chronicles the journey of a girl as she is followed by strange creatures, and even stranger humans; and The Frida Kahlo of Penge West, which follows the life of two friends as they navigate through the trails and tribulations of their youth.
10 Almeida Theatre
If seeing a show here, expect to be in good company – every show that takes to the Almeida Theatre stage tends to be a sell out. Founded by Pierre Audi in 1980, the theatre was taken over by Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid in 1990, and Michael Attenborough in 2002. Productions have included Hamlet with Ralph Fiennes in 2005; Rufus Norris’ Festen; Ruined by Lynn Nottage; and most recently Chimerica and Ghosts, all of which have helped make the theatre world renowned. In the summer of 2013, Rupert Goold joined the Almeida from Headlong as Artistic Director.
The theatre’s autumn season looks like continuing in this fine tradition. There will be a world premiere of new work by Alecky Blythe and the London premiere of David Cromer’s acclaimed production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It has also been announced that Mark Bartlett’s King Charles III will transfer to the West End in September, the fourth production to transfer from the Almeida within the last year.