Whether you’re a local theatre-goer or coming to Birmingham on a quick visit, here’s a brief guide to Birmingham’s theatre scene, from The Birmingham REP to the Old Joint Stock, Birmingham has all your theatre needs covered.
The Birmingham REP
Out of all the theatres in Birmingham, The REP is my favourite. It’s the Midlands version of the National Theatre, offering a range of performances for every audience, promoting diverse, collaborative and challenging theatre. Their vision is to ‘inspire the city of Birmingham to a lifelong love of theatre’, and they do this through making exciting theatre from scratch, celebrating contemporary work and innovation, and seeking out new ideas. The REP has three auditoriums (The House, The Studio and The Door) and is connected to the Library of Birmingham, it is a cultural hub at the heart of the city that cannot be ignored. The most important pieces of theatre are being shown and developed here. From The Hundred and One Dalmations (the Disney Classic) to Pink Mist (a verbatim play based on three young men and their experiences at war in Afghanistan) you can’t go wrong with a visit to the REP, and the tickets are always reasonably priced.
Find The Birmingham REP here: Broad St, Birmingham B1 2EP
The New Alexandra Theatre
Owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group, The New Alexandra Theatre – or ‘The Alex’ – is the go to place for jukebox musicals. From The Buddy Holly Story to Grease, if you like to be swaying in your seat by the end of a performance then this is the place for you. Only a two minute walk from Birmingham New Street Station, this theatre doesn’t look much from the outside but do not be fooled, after a £1.25m revamp in 2015 the theatre boasts a welcoming open-plan box-office area, brand new seating and carpets in the auditorium, and plush seats in the bar area that give it a comfy contemporary feel. Treat yourself to preshow drinks in the piano bar, where the soothing notes of the pianist will ease you gently into the show, and get your toes ready to tap along.
Find The New Alexandra Theatre here: Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham B5 4DS
The Birmingham Hippodrome
The Birmingham Hippodrome is the Queen of the Birmingham theatres, if you want to see the next big show taking the UK by storm and don’t mind paying a bit extra for your tickets then this is the place to go. With resident partners including the Birmingham Royal Ballet, DanceXchange and the Welsh National Opera, it’s no wonder this theatre is the most popular single auditorium venue in the UK – it offers something for everyone (and at a very high standard). If a West-End show is stopping off in Birmingham on tour then you can expect to find it here (think The Lion King, Matilda, and Hairspray), and you can look forward to a star (or two) gracing the stage in the popular pantomime performances. From fine-dining to nibbles, dining experiences to Afternoon Tea, the Hippodrome offers a range of options for those looking to grab a pre-show bite to eat. Situated in Birmingham’s Chinatown, the Hippodrome brings world-class theatre to the Midlands.
Find The Birmingham Hippodrome here: Hurst St, Southside, Birmingham B5 4TB
The Old Joint Stock
Standing opposite St Phillip’s Cathedral, this magnificent Grade-II listed pub has an intimate black-box theatre hiding in its attic. If you enjoy being thrown into the action in a compact studio space then you will struggle to find a better venue to satisfy your theatre needs, and if you’re a student interested in the arts then you have to visit this place, it offers charming low-budget performances from small up-and-coming theatre companies and new writers. Performances are along the same lines as those found in the £0-15 ticket price-range of the Edinburgh Fringe, and have the same gutsy, love-for-the-arts feel about them. Grab a drink in the pub downstairs, where the original fixtures and fittings of this 19th Century library-come-bank-come-pub will blow you away, and stay for dinner if you can because the pies and mash are divine.
Find the Old Joint Stock here: 4 Temple Row W, Birmingham B2 5NY
The Midlands Art Centre
The MAC is an arts centre in the glorious grounds of Cannon Hill Park where you can find a busy programme of ‘dance, independent cinema, music, spoken word, comedy, exhibitions and special events’. If you’re a creative person then is the local you’ve always dreamed of. Similarly to the REP, the MAC supports new theatre and vows to showcase work that takes risks. Children’s theatre, physical theatre, new writing and contemporary drama are popular searches in the ‘What’s on’ box, and deciding on a show is a difficult process, simply because they have so much to offer. Shows tend to only hang around for a few days (at most) before they make way for new work, so you have to be quick and check the listings regularly. The MAC has loads of courses and workshops to get involved in too, from stained glass painting to creative writing. We theatre lovers can get sign up for Musical theatre, as well as Family Theatre and Creative Play. If that’s not your thing, the MAC is a great building to work and study in, with a café and indoor and outdoor seating, it’s the perfect place to get creative.
Find the Midlands Art Centre here: Cannon Hill Park, Queen’s Ride, Birmingham B12 9QH
The Crescent Theatre
I was put off The Crescent Theatre by a three hour adaptation of The Judas Kiss that was long, melodramatic and failed to do anything exciting, and I rarely find anything in the listings lately that take my fancy. However, if you’re looking for standard renditions of classic plays then you will find something of interest, because the Crescent puts on faithful performances of canonical texts such as Sense and Sensibility and Oliver. For that reason, it’s a great theatre for young adults who want to familiarise themselves with famous work and see it performed on stage. It may not be to my fancy now (as a fan of theatre that unapologetically ‘makes it new’) but I would have thoroughly enjoyed a school trip there 5-10 years ago. Situated just off Broad Street, the Crescent is one of Birmingham’s oldest theatre companies, and although it’s not breaking any boundaries it’s still plodding along nicely in the background.
Find The Crescent Theatre here: Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8AE
The Old Rep Theatre
The Old REP Theatre is the only theatre on the list that I haven’t visited, and I’m not entirely sure why. Constructed in 1913, the Old REP was the first purpose-built repertory theatre in the UK, boasting a steeply raked auditorium which still exists there today. A few years ago the theatre rebranded itself as ‘a young people-driven venue’ and formed a partnership with BOA (Birmingham Ormiston Academy) a local academy training young adults in the creative, digital, and performing arts. The National Youth Theatre joined the Old Rep for a run for the first time in February 2017, which clearly demonstrates its commitment to the future stars of the (on and off) stage. With the aim to be recognised ‘as a flagship for the development of the future arts workforce’, the Old REP might be one to look out for over the next five years.
Find the Old REP Theatre here: 45 Station St, Birmingham B5 4DY