The history of theatre in Hackney stretches back over four centuries. In fact, some of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays were first staged here. And this dramatic tradition continues today, with a great range of venues across the borough. Here’s our selection of the best theatres in Hackney.
A brilliantly diverse programme, with an emphasis on experimentation and social relevance. Look out for shows by simple8, who employ the simplest of props and unaccompanied song to wonderful effect, and for the Grimeborn festival of new opera in August. In line with its boundary-pushing artistic policy, the Arcola is also a pioneer environmentally: it’s the world’s first carbon-neutral theatre.
Big House works with care-leavers, using performance as a means of confidence-building and catharsis. Many productions are inspired by the actors’ life stories.
Located in a former public library near where some of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, the Courtyard has a 150-seat house and an 80-seat studio theatre. It shows plays, live music and comedy.
It’s hard to capture the breadth of what the Empire presents, from comedy nights to opera to dance spectaculars to the legend that is the annual Panto. A night out here shouldn’t be missed, not least to see the stunning scarlet and gold auditorium.
Built in 1863 by a local philanthropist, this jewellery-box music hall is one of Hackney’s treasures. In its heyday the hall presented songs, sketches and turns featuring trapeze artists, jugglers, acrobats and performing dogs. It later became a mission hall and then a social club, and now specialises in youth arts and performance. The auditorium has had a major renovation, meaning this lovely little space is reclaiming its place in the artistic life of the borough.
The Hackney Wick Yard, built from reclaimed materials, is all about new ideas and new writing, and is a great forum for young writers to get started. There’s also a convivial restaurant and bar, which hosts regular live music, pop-ups and events.