Dramatic architecture: the most beautiful classical theatre venues in Brussels

05 December 2022
Théâtre Royal des Galeries

Red velvet seats and curtains, Baroque balconies, monumental stucco, wall and ceiling paintings... It’s not only at opera house La Monnaie that you can experience the old grandeur of the performing arts. We selected some venues that will transport you to times long past. From an Italian-style Baroque theatre to a 17th century folk theatre, let your imagination run wild with our selection of historic theatres!

Théâtre des Martyrs

Theatre des Martyrs

Théâtre des Martyrs breathes new life into the monumental Place des Martyrs, which was under threat of being absorbed by political institutions. The surprises keep coming when you come here to watch a play. Hidden behind one of Brussels' busiest shopping streets is an 18th century neoclassical oasis. The elegant symmetry of the white facades all around recalls the former laundry on place de la Blanchisserie where sheets were dried. Number 22 houses a modern theatre building with an auditorium which can host up to 366 people, a small studio and a café. The emphasis is on French-language classical and modern text theatre, with occasional sideways leaps into dance theatre, poetry and musical storytelling.

Did you know... 466 revolutionaries who fought for Belgium's independence are buried at the Place des Martyrs? A revolt that began at the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie just a stone’s throw away!

Le KVS

KVS Foyer

The KVS emerged in the mid-19th century as a beacon of Dutch-language theatre in Brussels. After a nomadic early period, the old armoury on Rue de Laeken was converted into a theatre. Architect Jean Baes designed the masterful evacuation system with outdoor balconies that gives the theatre its unique look to this day. The entire building is a handsome example of Flemish Neo-Renaissance, combined with new materials (iron) and Art Nouveau elements. The original building (known as the ‘bol’) was expanded to include the top under the glass roof and the box, the new building on the Quai aux Pierres de Taille. The KVS is resolutely strengthening its ties to the city with gender-diverse, intergenerational and intercultural pieces. Here, you’ll get to see some innovative (inter)national theatre, but there’s also room for dance, literary events and artistic residencies. After a performance, be sure to stay and reminisce in the monumental, historic foyer!

Did you know... during the theatre's official inauguration in 1887, King Leopold II spoke in Dutch to Mayor Buls? This was the first time a member of the royal family had spoken Dutch at a public occasion!

Théâtre Royal des Galeries

Théâtre Royal des Galeries

The Théâtre Royal des Galeries was included in the ambitious project of the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries in 1847. The choice of an architecture inspired by the Italian Renaissance was rather unusual, neoclassicism being predominant in Brussels at the time. The theatre has remained true to its image as an entertainment theatre and is known for its traditional year-end revue. There’s plenty of red velvet and gold ornaments in the décor and primarily French-language pieces on the stage. Watch classics from Feydeau, Molière and Sacha Guitry and contemporary French-language pieces (from Belgians Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and Anne-Marie Etienne, for example), but also French renditions of international classics (Shakespeare, Pirandello, Agatha Christie). Great attention is paid to keeping up to date.

Did you know... when the theatre was renovated in 1951, Magritte painted a cloudy sky on the ceiling of the auditorium? He was not allowed to paint his typical bells, though – people thought that was 'too obscure'...

Théâtre Royal de Toone

Théâtre Royal de Toone

No elegant ladies and gentlemen here, scrutinising the stars on stage (and each other) with their beautifully decorated brass theatre binoculars. This is the last Brussels popular theatre of its kind. Imagine an ancient attic (from 1696!), with coloured cushions on the wooden benches. Puppet theatre isn’t just for children’s entertainment. It involves grown-up theatre, based on classics like Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers or Charles De Coster's Till Eulenspiegel. Toone is the puppeteer who performs all the characters, having been shown the ropes by the previous Toone. Six puppeteers accompany him to serve the 'poesjenellen' (rod marionettes). Be sure to go to a performance in the Brussels’s Vloms dialect!

Did you know... the poesjenellen date back to the time when the unpopular Philip II of Spain ordered the theatres to close? He wanted to curb these hotbeds of resistance. The resourceful people of Brussels then simply replaced the actors with puppets!

Théâtre Royal du Parc

Théâtre Royal du Parc

The Théâtre Royal du Parc is undoubtedly the oldest theatre in Brussels. The theatre was built in 1782, on the edge of Brussels Park (by comparison, the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie dates from 1819!). It was seen as an addition to the Vaux-Hall, an entertainment complex on the same site. The theatre had a tumultuous history under successive occupiers, and various uses. It functioned, for example, as an annex to La Monnaie, as a circus and even as a location for dressage before becoming the leading French-speaking stage house in Brussels in the 19th century. Its programme alternates between classical and contemporary Belgian (French-speaking) creations with adaptations of foreign pieces. The line-up poster shows a clear preference for comedy, with room for guests and co-productions.

Did you know... during World War I, the Théâtre Royal du Parc was claimed by the Germans? Only German performances were allowed at the time!

Beursschouwburg

Beursschouwburg

The original 1885 eclectic-style building housing the Beursschouwburg has been through many transformations. From a shop, party hall and café, it grew into the multidisciplinary, ground-breaking haven for art and reflection we know today. The monumental white foyer and red hall still hint to its past. In 1946, it was converted into Théâtre de la Bourse, with an Italian-style auditorium on the first floor. In the 1960s, the need for a Flemish cultural network in the capital grew, which saw the launch of the Beursschouwburg as a Flemish stage in the heart of Brussels. From then on, the institution has set the pace for many legendary initiatives: Mallemunt, Rock Rally and the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, to name but a few. The theatre is an integral part of Brussels’ urban landscape and strives to represent all Brussels residents.

 

Did you know... the programme-maker for youth performances at the Beursschouwburg later founded the BRONKS youth theatre?