Feature: The top 10 theatre debate

There’s nothing like publishing a top ten list to get a debate raging. As soon as the list hits the page (or screen) people start to disagree and produce their own lists.

So when Michael Coveney listed his ten favourite theatres, it was only a matter of time before other contenders started to be proposed. Mark Shenton soon followed with his proposals and Rev Stan has now shared her ten favourite venues. Never one to miss a trend, here are my top ten venues.

How have I selected them? A mix of architecture, atmosphere and productions all play a part. Seat comfort is also a key consideration and one that has seen several, otherwise strong contenders, drop off the list.

In no particular order:

1) West Yorkshire Playhouse – Leeds
Two wildly different spaces that can conjure up the epic and the intimate, WYP also combines well thought out public areas and an exciting programme that mixes classics with new work.

2) Marlowe Theatre – Canterbury
Often when a theatre is rebuilt it loses some charm. The Marlowe is a rare exception, a well-designed modern theatre that thinks about artists and audiences. Add in some of the most comfortable (if orange) seats and it’s one of the finest theatres in the South East

3) Southwark Playhouse – London
The only theatre were the smell is instantly recognisable. Two versatile spaces that lend themselves to adventurous programming. Where else would you get a musical based on caving?

4) Theatre Royal Drury Lane – London
There’s a lack of West End theatres on this list, mainly because often the Victorian playhouses never designed good spaces for audiences. The Lane though holds a special place in national and personal theatre history and even though it needs a bit of TLC still impresses in scale, history and design.

5) New Wolsey Studio – Ipswich
There are a couple of venues that if I ever won the lottery I’d love to buy and run. This 100 seat studio space is top of the list. The converted chapel is ideal for small scale shows and perhaps currently doesn’t show its real potential.

6) Norwich Playhouse – Norwich
Despite the venues heightist website, suggesting tall people sit in back row, this small venue works well for a variety of genres and the onsite bar has one of the best atmospheres of any theatre in the county.

7) Royal & Derngate Theatre – Northampton
There’s a real surprise here. The modern atrium that links the Royal and Derngate theatres reminds visitors of a mini National Theatre, but step through the entrance doors to the Royal and you get a traditional theatre hiding behind a modern façade.

8) Courtyard Theatre – Stratford Upon Avon
Thankfully being resurrected, if only temporarily, for the World Shakespeare Festival, The RSC’s Courtyard has more atmosphere in this temporary venue than many long serving theatres ever struggle to find.

9) Crucible Theatre – Sheffield
Thrust stages can be difficult but thankfully the Crucible and its varied programme seems to have mastered the stage. It’s also one of those rare venues where the foyer seems to have been given equal thought to auditorium.

10) Young Vic – London
OK, technically three venues but all three are worthy of inclusion. Highly adaptable, it often seems that as much thought is given to changing the configuration as to programming, but it makes for exciting engagement between play and audience.

Of course we shouldn’t get hung up on just traditional venues. There’s great work being produced by companies who perform in non traditional spaces, or indeed the open air – but that’s another list!

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