Five of the most experimental London theatres

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For tourists, it's not really a true trip to the capital until you've seen a show. Theatre's been a major part of London culture since the days of Shakespeare, with the West End becoming its spiritual home in the early 1800s when classic venues like the Adelphi and Old Vic were first established. Now, “Theatreland” contains about forty different venues, specialising in highly-produced extravaganzas guaranteed to get bums on seats. But just as the music charts have never been a great indicator of the best songs out there, these large venues are not necessarily where the most interesting theatre is to be found. More experimental and challenging work is out there; you just need to know where to look…

Darkfield

Darkfield is not really a London theatre; indeed, it's hard to say that it's based anywhere in particular. Their performances take place in the intimate confines of a shipping container, so their two current shows – Flight and Séance – go wherever the demand is. Séance is a particularly unique experience. With the lights off, the small audience sits in complete darkness with the only information coming to them through headphones. As the séance begins, the feeling of being untethered from the world becomes stronger and stronger. Your understanding of the space around you becomes suspect and you begin to doubt the evidence of your senses. It's a completely new experience and one you can now enjoy as part of the 2019 Vault Festival around Waterloo.

Check out Darkfield

The Vaults

Speaking of the Vault Festival, The Vaults are a big part of London’s new cultural landscape of alternative theatre. They're also underground in the more literal sense, set in the disused railway arches under Waterloo station. Aside from their annual festival, they run shows throughout the year, mixing their own in-house work with the best productions from elsewhere.

Check out The Vaults

Space 18

Immersive theatre has become a key part of the London scene in recent years. Rather than a passive experience where audiences sit back and watch others do the work, visitors to an immersive theatre are part of the unfolding action. Space 18 was purpose-built for this kind of show, with multiple buildings covering thousands of square feet. From April, you'll be able to take part in their horror-themed experience Variant 31, a 90-minute interactive performance featuring over 100 actors and wearable tech to fully engage you in the action. And with all that square footage to explore, every person's story will be something different and unique.

Check out Space 18

Out Of Joint

Out Of Joint has been interested in producing political and socially progressive shows since its inception in 1994. With a focus on bringing through new writers, directors and other creatives, they mix new works with adaptations and revivals to produce shows for their stages and those of their theatrical partners around the country. Last year's Close Quarters followed a group of elite female soldiers in the British infantry, while the bleakly hilarious Rita, Sue and Bob Too is currently out on tour.

Check out Out Of Joint

COLAB Factory

The COLAB Factory is one of the biggest names in immersive theatre. Last year's Copycat, a serial killer-themed experience mixing murder mystery with escape room antics, was a must for horror aficionados, but their work isn't just for the blood and gore crowd. Their current shows are based around the classic novel The Great Gatsby and a WWII alternative history, For King and Country, where the visitors are 'designated survivors' who have the power to change the course of the war.

Check out COLAB Factory

Cover photo: Séance at Darkfield from Facebook

Emma Millward