/10 of the UK’s best tiny theatres and cinemas

10 of the UK’s best tiny theatres and cinemas


Sol Cinema, touring

While its claim to be the “smallest cinema in the solar system” may not be strictly provable, Sol Cinema is certainly the smallest in Britain to be powered entirely by the sun. It’s also a peripatetic cinema, with its screen, projector, surround-sound speakers and plush bench seating for eight fitted into a tiny vintage Bluebird Eurocamper caravan. Although based on the Gower peninsula in south Wales, the cinema is towed all over the country, often turning up at festivals. Patrons pick up a ticket (admission is free) and some popcorn at the caravan’s window and saunter up a red carpet before surrendering said ticket to a uniformed usherette. All the films shown are shorts, lasting no more than 10 minutes, so there’s a good chance you’ll still have some popcorn left when you leave.
thesolcinema.org

Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate, Kent




Tom Thumb Theatre, Cliftonville, Margate, KentE7JRGH Tom Thumb Theatre, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent



Photograph: John Gaffen/Alamy

One of Britain’s smallest theatres and truly one of kind, this one was built in 1896 as a coach house in a glorious location a little back from the sea, and saved from dereliction in 1984 by actress Sarah Parr-Byrne and her theatrical agent mother, Lesley. They completely restored the building and converted it into a tidy 51-seat theatre, giving it the look and feel of a Victorian playhouse with its own shabby-chic cocktail bar. The size of the stage – two metres by three, reputedly the smallest in a British theatre – means you’re unlikely to see a production of Les Mis here, but it still puts on a surprising variety of shows, including experimental drama, performance art, DJs, bands and a wildly popular pantomime. On 23 January, the UK tour of Luke Wright’s new political verse play, The Remains of Logan Dankworth, kicks off here.
tomthumbtheatre.co.uk

CellB, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd




CellB, Ffestiniog


The slate-mining village at the upper terminus of the Ffestiniog Railway is not usually regarded as the epitome of cool. However, in its back streets is CellB, a fabulous little cinema, bar and hostel in what was once a police station and court room. The Edwardian building was renovated and reopened by local creative arts project Gwallgofiaid (and profits help fund local youth schemes). The cinema’s one screen mainly shows new releases but also more artsy fare and occasional specials such as a forthcoming “1950s cinema experience”. There’s a bar/cafe for a meal, tapas or drinks. And, when the show is over, there are comfy (and tiny) hostel rooms in what were once police cells.
cellb.org

Swallow Theatre, Dumfries & Galloway




Autumn 2019 Swallow Theatre Pic


In a field on the lonely Machars peninsula stands a little theatre that was once a byre. From the outside, it still has the look of a cowshed, with whitewashed walls, a blue door and a corrugated roof. But inside is a small stage, raked seating and a foyer-cum-box-office-cum-bar. A former cowshed, it was converted into a space for theatricals, music, poetry and visual art in 1995. It also does free monthly readings of classic plays, such as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. The theatre has just 50 “quite comfortable” seats, but it endearingly concedes that “some people like to bring a cushion”.
swallowtheatre.co.uk

Schoolhouse Cinema, Out Skerries, Shetland

The Schoolhouse is the smallest cinema in Scotland, and could also stake a claim as the world’s most beautifully situated picturehouse. Though its location, on the Shetland archipelago of Out Skerries (population 76), presents an exciting challenge to would-be patrons. Happily, magician, entertainer and fire-breather Chris Harris, who opened the cinema in 2017 in the former schoolhouse where he lives, does not intend it to be a money-spinner. Not only is entrance to his 20-seat palace of film free, the popcorn, hotdogs, Slush Puppies, drinks and snacks are on the house as well. There’s Dolby surround-sound, big blue seats from an Odeon in Manchester, proper tickets and a selection of 4,000 films on DVD. And if there’s one you’re burning to see, just email Chris a week before you arrive.
schoolhousecinema.co.uk

Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham




Old Joint Stock Theatre Birmingham


A good number of pubs around Britain come with a theatre attached, but few can match the glories of the Old Joint Stock next to St Philips Cathedral. Built as a library in 1862 and later becoming the bank from which the pub takes its name, this slice of Grade II-listed Victoriana has its original decor, including an ornate gallery and cupola. Its 105-seat “black box” studio theatre is a more recent addition, opened in 2006. Upcoming productions include live music, radio plays, a Harry Potter parody and a stack of contemporary fringe theatre and one-person shows.he pub offers a pre-theatre menu.
oldjointstock.co.uk

Star and Shadow, Newcastle




Star and Shadow in Newcastle


This unusual space has been run as a cooperative since 2006 but moved to its current Warwick Street location last year after the co-op bought and converted a building on a former landfill site. Staffed by volunteers and dedicated to promoting grass roots culture, the cinema aims to get patrons involved, rather than merely consuming films. Customers can get involved in discussions about what they’ve seen and maybe even curate a season themselves. The programme is a joyous melange of genres: this month’s offering includes Cambridge Analytica documentary The Great Hack, 1934 Christmas comedy thriller The Thin Man, and evergreen mockumentary This is Spinal Tap. On Sundays, the volunteer-run vegetarian cafe serves toasted sandwiches and homemade cakes.
starandshadow.org.uk

Selby Town Hall, North Yorkshire




Selby Town Hall in Selby Yorkshire


For a small town arts centre, Selby Town Hall has attracted big-name performers such as Dara Ó Briain and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Originally a Methodist chapel, then a tyre depot, it was saved from ruin by the council and opened as a live venue in 2003. With a large performance space, a more compact studio and a bar, it has built up a faithful following for its mixture of live bands, one-person shows, stand-up comedy and plays. It’s also home to the volunteer-run Selby Globe Community Cinema, which puts on films old, new and sing-along, and a monthly film-and-lunch event.
selbytownhall.co.uk

The Small Space, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan




The Small Space Barry


Making its tiny entrance last year, this converted one-up-one-down shop claims to be the UK’s smallest theatre and smallest cinema, and the world’s smallest magic theatre. Despite its size, the building has played many roles in its lifetime: bookshop, printer’s workshop, florist, tobacconist and, in the 19th century, the premises of a one-armed barber. The auditorium, lined with velvet curtains, measures 3½ metres by just under 5 and has room for 20 raked seats in theatre mode and 16 when the cinema’s 2.3-metre screen is in situ. The schedule is big on live magic, with music, comedy and classic film thrown in. Upstairs there’s a bar, and those who fancy themselves as the next Harry Houdini can sign up for magic lessons here too. Just don’t wave your arms about too much.
thesmallspace.co.uk

Bournemouth Colosseum

Opened in 2013, the Colosseum provides a singularly intimate film-watching experience. It’s in a basement below a coffee shop with room for just 19 cinema-goers on seats that first saw service in the Welsh National Assembly. When the lights go down, the screen is usually showing classics from the 1950s to the 1970s, chosen by an informal poll among customers. These are interspersed with new releases, while every first Thursday is dedicated to rockumentaries and other music on celluloid. Most Friday and Saturdays, there’s also a supper-and-film club (around £15 a head). And for those who quail at the thought of sharing a space with even a dozen or so strangers, the Colosseum has a two-seat “royal box”, and an even smaller Screen 2, which seats just eight.
bournemouthcolosseum.co.uk

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