GDIF Colour of Time © Doug Southall

Free Theatre in London This Summer

Will Rathbone

We take a look at the free theatre taking place in London over the coming months. There are international festivals, a season of open-air performances and the chance to see West End stars - all for free! 

Seeing a top West End musical doesn’t have to be expensive if you know where to look - and there are two fantastic opportunities to catch the capital’s top performers for free this summer. Firstly, West End Live celebrates the best that theatreland has to offer. Taking place over the weekend of 22/23 June, Trafalgar Square plays host to a series of live performances from the stars of blockbuster musicals and indie smashes alike. Disney’s Aladdin, Les Miserables, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Waitress are just some of the 25+ shows on offer and entry is completely free. 
West End Live
West End Live © Pamela Raith Photography

If that whets your musical appetite, and you’ve theatre-hungry young mouths to feed as well, then Kid’s Week is your chance to bag free tickets for the wee ones. Rather misleadingly titled, Kid’s Week actually runs for the whole of August, and it’s a simple process. Any child under 16 - provided they are accompanied by a full-paying adult - can go to see a participating show for free. The line-up of shows will be released on 4 June, so stay tuned to the website and grab yourself a bargain!
The National Theatre’s free River Stage returns for another year, programming free performance every weekend from 5 July till 4 August. 2019 sees them partner up with the East End’s finest drag act The Glory, Arab cultural pioneers Shubbak Festival, the Mayor of London’s National Park City Festival, and physical theatre legends Frantic Assembly as well as hosting their own weekend. It’s a wonderful summer addition to the ubiquitous Southbank stroll, so make sure you catch some theatre for gratis at some point.
Returning for a 16th year, The Scoop - located near Tower Bridge - presents London’s Free Open Air Theatre from 7 August till 1 September. There’s no need to book, as the amphitheatre has a capacity of a thousand people, so you can just turn up on the evening of your choice. This year sees a short, sharp 90-minute re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic gender-bending comedy A Twelfth Night and brand new family show The Sea Queen, which tells the story of Irish pirate Grainne O’Malley. 
Scoop (c) Sheila Burnett[1] copy
Scoop © Sheila Burnett

Once the Summer Holidays begin, free children’s activities are always welcome. Step forward Canary Wharf Summer Family Festival, which takes place every weekend between 8 June and 11 August throughout Canary Wharf. The main theatrical event - The Bombardiers and the Admirable Admirals - is a street performance that sees three airmen caught in a dangerous storm on their way home from battle, but the entire festival is full of workshops, music, dance and storytelling, so there’s plenty to entertain the kids.
Finally, for more thrilling street performance, try Greenwich and Docklands International Festival out for size. Showcasing some of the world’s finest performers, the festival runs throughout Greenwich from 21 June till 6 July with almost all of the programmed events free of charge. Focusing heavily on physical theatre, circus and dance, it’s a delight to walk around and witness trapeze artists, dance troupes, puppetry, stunt-performers, confetti parties and so much more. 

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