Invisible Theatres

London, The Arts

Articles in once-trendy magazines like Time Out are celebrating the diversity of London theatre at the moment, but there’s a problem for experienced theatre-goers. Theatre draws largely from its pool of accepted successful plays, so if something is a proven hit it comes back again, and there’s a good chance regular theatregoers have already seen it. This leads to the current situation, wherein the source material for most West End theatre is more than fifty years old. Worse still, there are plays like The Mousetrap that have actually been on for 60 years, or ones that just feel like it (‘Les Miz’) and many are really showing their age.

But with WE tickets hitting £70 and shows like ‘The Lion King’ seemingly set to run the next 100 years, fringe productions at between £10 – £15 a ticket provide more bang for your buck. These don’t advertise much, but can all be found online through sites like Theatremonkey and WhatsOnStage.

Last night I bought tickets for ‘Assassins’ at the Pleasance Theatre for £15 a head and realised that the place was right on my doorstep, and that somehow I’d never heard of it. Sure enough, there was a large, nicely kitted-out theatre, a steak restaurant and pub complex, nestled in a backstreet between blocks of social housing, just a ten minute walk from my front door.

In the pub there was a stand-up appearing, and drinkers filled the cobbled courtyard – all this in a street I had never walked down before. A little checking showed that the place has a rep for thought-provooking, fringe-winning plays. So I drew up a list of the fringe theatres in my immediate walking range which I had not been to before, and came up with – seventeen.

Suddenly I don’t care if Andrew Lloyd-Webber clogs up the WE with stinkingly poor musicals and shows that require tons of scenery for people who lack the ability to imagine stories.

I’m off to try another one tonight, and the night after that.

(As for ‘Assassins’, if the director didn’t quite nail the satire, which can quickly switch from irreverent to irrelevant, there were still some terrific moments, including a coup de theatre genuinely worthy of the West End, when the set is revealed to be the Dallas book repository.)