Here is our list of major theatre companies in London. This will give you an insight into the diverse and vibrant theatre scene that this city has to offer. These companies play host to some of the biggest productions and names on stage in the UK. As the largest acting hub of the UK, understanding the theatre scene in London is essential to your success as an actor.
Located on the South Bank in its iconic brutalist building, the Royal National Theatre is one of the most prominent theatres in the UK, creating work for a wide range of audiences. The National is a government funded company, regularly touring the UK and reaching international audiences through the National Theatre Live program. The company produces both classic and new works, with a dedicated new writing department. With three massive theatres, including the infamous Olivier Theatre, the National has a high capacity for productions with outstanding quality.
Casts regularly include famous actors such as Mark Rylance, Simon-Russell Beale, Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jude Law and Andrew Garfield. Recent transfers to the West End and Broadway include Angels in America, War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Hadestown.
Royal Court Theatre
Known as the writers theatre, the Royal Court is a world-renowned theatre company dedicated to new work. Responsible for launching the careers of playwrights such as Sarah Kane, Jez Butterworth, Alice Birch, Mike Bartlett and Lucy Prebble, the Royal Court presents bold, uncompromising productions.
The company runs writers groups for established playwrights and young writers which have resulted in the production of plays such as Anatomy of a Suicide, Constellations and Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner. Receiving over 2000 script submissions each year, the Royal Court is a leading player in the development of playwrights both established and emerging.
The Old Vic has been operating for over 200 years and is currently headed by Artistic Director Matthew Warchus. The theatre was the original home of the English National Opera, Sadler’s Wells Dance Company and the National Theatre, giving the building a strong sense of history.
Staging a blend of classic and contemporary new works, the Old Vic regularly casts well known actors, as seen in the recent production of Lungs starring Matt Smith and Claire Foy. The theatre’s focus on inclusivity and accessibility is reflected through their casting practices as well as their £10 ticket scheme.
An offshoot of the Old Vic, the Young Vic began its life under Laurence Olivier who proposed the theatre as a place to ‘develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.’ Located just down the road from the Old Vic, the Young Vic’s focus on affordable, accessible and diverse theatre is reflected in its programming. Led by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the company regularly works with theatre companies throughout the UK and internationally to create timely and necessary stories. Their recent production of The Jungle, which focused on stories of those in the Calais refugee camp, transferred to the West End and Broadway.
Situated on the banks of the River Thames, this cultural landmark is steeped in history. The Globe Theatre performs Shakespeare’s works in the original playing conditions of his time, providing one of the most unique theatre experiences in London. Shakespeare’s Globe is home to two different venues: the outdoor Globe theatre and the indoor, candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Both venues have no artificial lighting, sound or special effects. Actors perform in handmade Elizabethan style costumes and are uniquely challenged in commanding these distinctive theatre spaces.
One of the best and cheapest ways to attend a production at the Globe is to purchase standing tickets to be a ‘groundling’ in the pit of the theatre. In Shakespeare’s time, this is where all the action used to occur with gambling, brawls and drinking commonplace. These days, it’s a great place to get up close to the action on stage!
Operating in an intimate warehouse space, the Donmar is run by Artistic Director Michael Longhurst and Executive Director Henny Finch. Whilst small (at just 251 seats) the theatre is set in the heart of Covent Garden and is renowned for excellent programming, regularly featuring well known names.
The Donmar has a strong community focus, creating productions from the stories of those in the boroughs surrounding the theatre and providing workshops to schools. Their YOUNG + FREE ballot program gives away thousands of tickets each year to young people 25 and under. The Donmar was critically acclaimed for their groundbreaking Shakespeare Trilogy, which presented productions of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest featuring an all female cast, set in a women’s prison.
The Almeida Theatre brings new work and reinvigorated classics to the forefront in its intimate but impactful theatre space. The exposed-brick, curved back wall of the theatre lends a unique quality to the venue. Named after the street upon which it takes residence in North London, the theatre is headed by Artistic Director Rupert Goold. With an international reputation for excellence, the Almeida has premiered some incredibly successful works including Chimerica, King Charles III and The Writer. Actors such as Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Juliet Stevenson and Andrew Scott have all frequented the Almeida stage, with Saoirse Ronan to star as Lady Macbeth in their upcoming season.
This list is just a fraction of the many vibrant theatre companies based in London. I highly recommend getting out and seeing as much theatre as you possibly can. There are many ticketing schemes that make it affordable to see theatre in London, so there is no excuse! Not only is it a great way to cultivate and develop your taste as an actor but it’s also a brilliant opportunity to meet other people within the industry.