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February 26 2024

London’s best pub theatres


Britain has a long tradition of troupes performing in inns, taverns and courtyards, and London still has quite a few pubs with their own theatres. Many old inn performances died out when purpose-built theatres arrived, but in the late 20th century, some London pubs got creative with their unused spaces. 


Today, London has an impressive number of pub theatres at the heart of their communities and the London fringe theatre scene. They’re also fantastic springboards for new talent, and the tickets are often way below West End prices. This is our lowdown on the best pub theatres in London.


Finborough Theatre, West Brompton 

This 50-seater theatre is on the first floor of the Finborough Arms and has been putting on shows since 1980. Big names start at this theatre and become stars of film and television. Kathy Burke, Mark Rylance and Benjamin Zephaniah all featured their first works here. Over the decades, Finborough Theatre has earned a reputation as a launching pad for new playwrights as a much-loved part of London’s drama scene. Artistic director Neil McPherson has a popular programme of new and rediscovered theatre and musical theatre that often sells out. So book in advance! The pub below also serves a fine selection of craft ales.


Etcetera Theatre, Camden 

Founded in 1986 above The Oxford Arms on Camden High Street, Etcetera Theatre is now a key part of the London fringe movement, known for launching new comedy acts. Established comedians, think Bill Bailey and Richard Herring, often use this theatre to test out new material, so it’s not surprising this 42-seat venue is also a popular venue for the Edinburgh Fringe preview season. Etcetera Theatre also plays an important role in the Camden Fringe and London Horror Festival. There’s always something exciting in the packed What’s On calendar, and, downstairs, The Oxford Arms serves traditional pub food and drinks. 


Brockley Jack Theatre, Lewisham

Get your drinks from the downstairs bar and take them up to your theatre seats. The Brockley Jack Theatre has a reputation for excellent in-house productions and has a fantastic new writing scheme. It has gathered many awards over the years, including London Pub Theatre of the Year 2023. The Christmas shows are always best-sellers, and throughout the year, touring productions often show up for the free rehearsal space to get stage ready. This is an ambitious theatre with artistic director Kate Bannister and theatre manager Karl Swinyard at the helm, bringing artistic flair and technical wizardry that punches well above its weight.


Drayton Arms Theatre, Kensington

Above a gastropub in a handsome Jacobean building, the Drayton Arms Theatre is so small you’re only ever a few feet from the performers on stage. Its creative roots go back to shortly after WWII when the space was a rehearsal room for local actors working for BBC TV. It became a student theatre space in the 1980s before getting its professional theatre licence in 2011 and becoming the new kid on the fringe-theatre block. Today, the Drayton Arms Theatre is known for showcasing experimental works, musicals and reworked classics. This is also prime museum land, so it’s a lovely place to visit after a day at the Natural History or Science Museum. And your theatre ticket gives you 20% off food and drinks downstairs. 


Theatre 503, Battersea

This 63-seat theatre above The Latchmere Pub is a mecca for new writers. Theatre 503 puts on more first-time-writer works than any other theatre in the country. It’s a fantastic launchpad for exciting new talent, with a reputation for groundbreaking works. In the past, shows here have won Olivier awards, and this was where playwright Tom Morton-Smith (famous for his stage productions of My Neighbour Totoro and Oppenheimer) started his career. There’s a full calendar offering playwright courses, one-night shorts and full-runs of drama. The pub itself is also impressive, with delicious food, craft spirits and ales and a small south-facing beer garden. 


Enjoy two forms of entertainment as a package with a london pub theatre and pick a nearby Thistle Hotel, so you can enjoy a night out without thinking about a long journey back. Thistle Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and Thistle Trafalgar Square are both great ways to stay close to some of London’s best fringe theatre venues.