For people who study drama in English, theatre begins and ends with one name: William Shakespeare.
Everyone, from school kids in Florida to master thespians in Australia, takes pride in performing the Bard’s works.
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that many drama students would want to study their craft in the United Kingdom, the region that gave birth to Western theatre.
Fortunately for them, drama students can choose from hundreds of programs in the UK. From major schools in large cities like London and Edinburgh to smaller and focused programs in country institutions, thespians have plenty of choices when deciding upon their educational track.
For this list, we’ve narrowed it down to the ten best drama schools in the UK. Every one of the schools on this has everything an actor needs to improve their craft. Each one features experienced teachers, a vibrant artistic community, and ample opportunities to perform in front of audiences.
But each school also has its own unique offerings, from connections to major companies to respected regional festivals. Looking closely at this list will help you find the best place for your career path.
We’ve ranked these schools according to The Guardian’s reporting on drama and dance schools in the UK. In the case of a tie on The Guardian’s list, we’ve given the higher ranking to the school with the higher student satisfaction rating.
10. University of Sussex (Brighton, England)
At the University of Sussex, students learn drama and the performing arts through a combination of theory and practice.
The theory aspect comes from the school’s outstanding faculty, which includes teachers with backgrounds in academia and on the stage. Teachers include Dr. Sarah Jane Bailes, whose monograph Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure was published in 2011. Senior lecturer Lisa Peck not only teaches at the University of Sussex but also serves as joint artistic director of the RAPT (Research, Artistry, Participation, Theatre) theatre company.
U Sussex cooperates with Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, giving students space to demonstrate their abilities in front of audiences. Through the Attenborough Centre, students at U Sussex can collaborate with performers from across the UK, allowing them to increase their skills.
9. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Glasgow, Scotland)
Founded in 1847, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is the country’s most active venue. The school is the alma mater of some of the greatest Scottish actors, including David Tennant, James McAvoy, and Laura Donnelly.
Even if you don’t go on to star in major motion pictures and prestigious television programs, the Royal Conservatoire is an excellent choice for a fruitful career. A recent independent study found that 99.2% of graduates secure full-time employment or placement in advanced study programs within 6 months.
The Royal Conservatoire can attribute its success partially to its outstanding resources. The school boasts several performance venues, including the 334-seat New Athenaeum Theatre. New Athenaeum’s large stage has hosted talks and shows from organizations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre of Scotland, and more.
With these offerings, the Royal Conservatoire gives its students exposure to some of the greatest actors and performers in the country.
8. University of Glasgow (Glasgow, Scotland)
For those who want to take a more academic approach to drama, the University of Glasgow offers an impressive theatre studies program. Located within the School of Culture and Creative Arts, the theatre studies program emphasizes researching the effects and history of the dramatic arts.
One of the primary research tracks at U Glasgow approaches dramaturgy as a critical practice. The school provides support and connections for scholars who use the study of theatre as a way to address important questions, from the public opinion of political structures to economic concerns.
Another research track supports students and faculty looking at performance ecology. These researchers approach theatre as a way of being in the world, looking at different performance spaces and the ecological costs of current theatre standards.
7. Conservatoire for Dance and Drama (London, England)
Although founded in 2001, London’s Conservatoire for Dance and Drama has already established its reputation as an excellent school for theatre students.
The Conservatoire has been able to secure its place on this list because it brings together six established schools, including the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Furthermore, the Conservatoire enjoys partnerships with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Thanks to these partnerships, the Conservatoire has trained some of England’s finest actors.
Alumni include Naomi Harris. In addition to starring in blockbuster films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and the James Bond movie No Time to Die, Harris has been nominated for several prestigious awards. Her work in the 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight earned Harris an Academy Award nomination and Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for best-supporting actress.
After graduating from the Conservatoire, as the Old Vic Theatre School, in 1999, Olivia Coleman has gone on to star in the acclaimed BBC series Broadchurch and the Netflix series The Crown. Coleman won a best actress Academy Award for The Favorite and was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for The Father.
6. Birmingham City University (Birmingham, England)
A public university in Birmingham, England, Birmingham City University provides first-class acting training to a wide range of students.
That excellent training comes through the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, which partners with BCU for its acting BA. At the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, students can study under experienced and passionate teachers.
The school’s course director Danièle Sanderson was trained at the Drama Centre in London and spent a decade as a freelance director and movement director. Sanderson has over 20 years of experience teaching students, bringing both experience and perspective to the Conservatoire.
Vice Principal Stephen Simms is the country’s only Professor of Acting Education. From that position, Simms has directed a number of productions, including Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Buchner’s Woyzeck, and the award-winning musical Spring Awakening.
5. Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester, England)
At the Manchester Metropolitan University, students can earn an honors degree in acting or an honors degree in drama and contemporary performance in just three years.
At the heart of the program is the University’s newly constructed training hub.
Located in the Governor East Building, the hub brings together not just students within the Manchester School of Theatre, but also those in the Manchester Writing School. These connections allow students to expand their creative abilities, developing their skills while working on original material.
The school also invites students to expand their understanding of theatre and drama with its Bunker Talks. This weekly series brings in researchers and performers to discuss the ideas that have been inspiring them. With presentations from Simeon Barclay, Darren Pritchard, Santiago Sierra, and more, the Bunker Talks provide a space for inquiry and dialogue.
4. Lancaster University (Lancaster, Lancashire, England)
At Lancaster University’s Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA), students have a variety of degrees to pursue. In addition to BA degrees in drama, theatre, and performance, students can also study combination approaches, such as theatre and creative writing or theatre and English literature.
This multidisciplinary approach speaks to the school’s understanding that drama doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in conversation with other fields of study. The school knows that theatre is equally skilled craft, artistic expression, and political action.
All of those aspects come together with the school’s facilities, mainly the state-of-the-art LICA Building, considered by many to be one of the best black box theatres in England. Furthermore, students have access to professional-grade equipment, allowing them to stage advanced performances while still learning their art.
3. University of Essex (Essex, England)
At the University of Essex, students approach theatre as a “true marriage of intellect and emotion.” By calling upon students’ brains and hearts, U Essex’s drama program brings out the best in their performers.
That focus can be seen in the way the University has responded to recent lockdown limitations. With fewer opportunities for live performances, the drama program has not only made use of technologies such as Zoom but has reimagined the possibilities of theatre. By throwing away the script, teachers and students have kept performance alive in a difficult period.
For those interested in academic research in theatre, U Essex has resources and teachers. The school provides opportunities to study under scholars such as Professor Shohini Chaudhuri, whose studies on theatre and film have been published in three monographs. Professor Chaudhuri’s research interrogates the possibilities of performance.
2. Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London, England)
Since 1881, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has been London’s premier school for dramatists. The school’s alumni include some of the greatest names of UK cinema and stage, including Daniel Craig, Ewan McGregor, Sir James Galway, and Sir Bryn Terfel.
Those who want to follow in the footsteps of those esteemed actors can earn a BA Honours in Acting from Guildhall in just three years.
The program includes performances in the Milton Court building, which features a proscenium arch theater that seats 223 spectators and a 128-seat studio theatre. Additionally, the school has several labs and workshop spaces where students can further hone their skills and give performances.
For theatre lovers who prefer to remain behind the scenes, Guildhall has an excellent production arts degree. The three-year vocational degree allows specializations in theatre technology, design realisation, costuming, and stage management. Guildhall is one of the few schools in the UK to provide this type of training.
1. University of Central Lancashire (Preston, England)
The University of Central Lancashire supports its students every step of the way. In addition to the training provided by U Central Lancashire’s impressive faculty, the school offers programs such as the annual cJam Performance.
This event provides not only opportunities for networking, in which theatre and performance majors can meet people working in the industry, but also the chance to perform in front of an audience.
On campus, U Central Lancashire has several performance spaces of various sizes. This includes two black box theatre spaces, one 185 sq metres and another 160 sq metres. Additionally, the school provides students with the equipment they need to express themselves on stage fully.