By Ben Bunce
Despite being the birth place for so many of today's hit shows, fringe theatres can sometimes be forgotten. Those small theatre spaces scattered around London where you can find anything from revivals to new arrivals, where raw talent is discovered and where artists take a step back from the glamorous lights of the West End to focus on what brought them to stage in the first place. No plush dressing rooms here and not much of a wage for the cast either, but instead something a little quirky, a little more real and, above all, the exciting possibility of a longer run in town.
Nothing beats a night out in one of the West End's glorious theatres, but we too often forget the roots of some of our most successful shows. After all, fringe is where it all began for so many! Here are a handful of shows that saw their first audience in the fringe. Some are currently playing in the West End, some have been and gone, but ALL are worth a mention...
The Menier Chocolate Factory feeds the West End with great productions year after year. Since their first curtain went up in 2004, this quirky little production house has seen theatre stars flock to its stage to take part in classic revivals such as Little Shop of Horrors, La Cage aux Folles and Merrily We Roll Along, to name a few. Many will say that a Chocolate Factory production is one not to be missed and luckily, more often than not, you can catch them in the West End after well-deserved transfers.
The Young Vic sits a stone throw away from Waterloo station and regularly welcomes some of the UK's best thespians onto its stage. Initially part of the National Theatre, the Young Vic found its own identity in 1974. It has since seen hosted productions that have won multiple awards; many of which can be seen in London's West End today.
The Hampstead Theatre had huge success last year with the West End transfer of Sunny Afternoon - a production that has since gained a new home at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Leicester Square's doorstep and continues to wow London audiences. For over 55 years the Hampstead Theatre has seen the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Jude Law, Zoe Wannamaker and Tamsin Greig take to its stage. With so many praised productions under its belt, it comes as no surprise that West End venues are eager to welcome the fruits of this award-winning production house.
Perhaps it's the scientific history of the lovely Almeida Theatre that inspires such imaginative and intelligent plays. The theatre opened in 1980 under direction of Audi and immediately launched the festival of avant-garde music and theatre. Since then, the venue has held yearly events and continues to produce quality shows that regularly land in the heart of the West End.
The Chichester Festival Theatre opened under the supervision of the one and only Sir Laurence Olivier as Artistic Director in 1962. The renowned venue has sent many productions to London for longer runs in the West End, one of which is Gypsy - arriving at the Savoy Theatre this year - with the amazing Imelda Staunton playing Momma Rose.