Cheap and/or free street theatre is available all year long!
By Sophia Moss (follow Sophia on Twitter: @EndlessMoss)
Street theatre refers to outdoor performances that can take place on an open air stage, in a park, on the street or even at the tube station. The term ‘street theatre’ refers to a huge range of performance styles and genres from the living statues in Trafalgar Square all the way to outdoor Shakespeare performances in Regents Park.
It’s true that full-length plays and more traditional outdoor theatre is often limited to the summer season, but you’ll find that there are outdoor spaces in London which people can and do perform in all year round. If you’re looking for some cheap and/or free performances in the capital grab a cup of hot chocolate and head down to one of these venues!
#1 | More London Free Summer Festival | 1st June- 31st October
This is a four month long free festival that is held on the riverside and features a range of music, live theatre, tasty food, street performances, an open-air cinema and even dance classes. One of the biggest attractions of this festival is the Scoop theatre space. The Scoop is an outdoor theatre which is located right by the river Thames and is surrounded by glass offices and the sights and sounds of London.
Every year between August and September the theatre group Gods & Monsters hosts two free outdoor plays. The first play is typically a child friendly musical and the latter play is a more adult-centric drama. This year Gods & Monsters performed ‘The Wawel Dragon’ for their fun-filled musical in which they explored Polish folklore, dragons, love and comedy to great effect. The evening performance was a unique rock opera steam-punk version of ‘Crime and Punishment’ which featured addictive songs, strong acting and impressive costumes.
Gods & Monsters 2016 season is now over but the More London Summer Festival runs until the 31st of October this month and the Scoop is used as a performance space throughout the year, so if you have a free evening why not head down to London Bridge and see what’s happening?
When: The free open air theatre runs between 31 August – 25 September 2016, every Wednesday – Sunday, next year tbc. For more information head to the More London Free Summer Festival website.
Where: The Scoop and surrounding areas are a 10 minute walk from London Bridge Train Station and can be found along the Thames walk. To find more transport options and to see a map of the area please go here.
Price: Performances at The Scoop are generally free to attend, but they do ask that those who can give a small donation to help fund future projects. The festival itself is also free to attend.
#2 | Canary Wharf Events | 12th May-20th of October
When you think of Canary Wharf your thoughts are probably limited to bankers and tall glass towers, but Canary Wharf is also a great place to find free and cheap theatre!
The Bloom Festival is currently running in Canary Wharf until the 20th of October and it is dedicated to showcasing local talent and delivering free theatre and entertainment right in the heart of Canary Wharf. Highlights from the festival so far includes the free outdoor wacky interpretation of ‘Macbeth’ in Jubilee Park and a poignant performance of ‘Wuthering Heights’ organised by the Chapterhouse Theatre Company.
The Bloom Festival is ending on 20th of October, but there are other creative events which take place in Canary Wharf throughout the year.
When: Thursday 12th May-Thursday 20th of October, next year tbc.
Where: Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Canary Wharf. For more information and directions please go here.
#3 | Bloomsbury Festival | 19th- 23rd October 2016
This year the Bloomsbury festival is hosting over 100 events across the streets of London as well as in parks, galleries and museums. This festival works to bring talented performers, artists, dancers and other creatives together and showcase some of the talent Bloomsbury and the surrounding areas have to offer.
Highlights from this years Bloomsbury Festival includes ‘The Calling Tree’ which is a series of outdoor performance that will run from October 21st till October 23rd 2016. This is an avant garde performance which will take place outdoors amongst the trees in St George’s Gardens, and the show will involve the actors, singers and dancers engaging with passers-by and encouraging the enjoyment of nature. Fans of contemporary dance are also welcome to join the Transform! Dance Company on the 22nd of October and watch a themed performance centred around language.
When: From the 19th- 23rd October 2016
Where: Various locations around London. For a full list of events head to the Bloomsbury Festival website.
Price: Most of the events are free of charge although you may be required to pre-book ahead of time. When you do have to pay to attend an event it will be stated on that events listing. Most prices should be under £20.
#4 | Street Theatre: The South Bank and Trafalgar Square | All year round
If you want to find cheap outdoor theatre you needn’t look further than the streets of London. No matter what the season or the day is like if you look around London’s South Bank and Trafalgar Square you’re guaranteed to find something to keep you entertained.
Both of these locations are great places for seeing living statues. Trafalgar Square has at least three dedicated Yoda’s and sometimes you can even find Death himself hanging around outside the National Gallery, and Trafalgar Square is also a great place for finding artists, musicians, bubble shows and busking acts. The area outside of the National Gallery is a popular performance spot and throughout the year you can stumble upon acrobats, jugglers, unicyclists or (more commonly) a combination of the three.
If you head down to the South Bank you’re likely to come across musicians, more bubble shows and the Charlie Chaplin living statue is commonly found around that area. The space between The London Eye and The Royal Festival hall is a great place to find performance acts and if you walk down towards The Tate Modern you’re guaranteed to find entertainment along the way.
When: Buskers, Living Statues and other performers can be found throughout the day all year round, but the best time for shows tends to be in the afternoon to early evening.
Where: South Bank is about a two minute walk from Waterloo Train Station and Trafalgar Square is close to Charing Cross and Leicester Square tube stations.
Price: You don’t have to pay to attend busking performances but you will be requested to give a non-obligatory donation of around £2-10.
#5 | More Street Theatre! Leicester Square and Covent Garden | All year round
Covent Garden is one of the most famous locations in London for street theatre, and it’s for good reason. As street performing licences for the Covent Garden area tend to be quite high you’ll only find the best, most entertaining shows in that location. If you walk through James Street in the afternoon you’ll almost definitely come across a magic show, a dance performance or some old fashioned circus skills, if you head to the other side of the market by the Church there is a large performance space that is often used for comedy and acrobatic routines and if you go inside the market and look to the lower level you may even find some opera singers!
Leicester Square is a busy hub of activity and it tends to be quite crowded throughout the day, which is why it is a popular busking location. Break dancers often perform in this space as well as more traditional buskers who may focus on comedy, magic and/or circus skills.
When: Buskers are most prominent in the afternoon to early evening, but this will depend on the season and weather.
Where: Covent Garden and Leicester Square are both tube stations that can be found on the Piccadilly Line.
Price: You don’t have to pay to watch buskers, but remember that busking is often the performers full time job and if you are able to pay a few pounds it is good to do so.