The Guardian recently ran an article about the resurgence of pub theatre, demonstrating that once again our author is well-ahead of the curve (in some areas, in others he can’t even find the curve and is uncertain whether one even exists). I have been an habitué of pub theatres for more than 4 years now. [Is it just me, or do any other (male or equivalent) readers feel cheated when typing (or writing) a French adjective formed from a past participle that they cannot correctly add the second ‘e’ for feminine agreement?]
What is not to love? The title clearly illustrates the two key attributes for any potential visitor: there is a theatre “in” (or usually above) a pub! Not only that, but it is usually a small, intimate theatre producing new writing and the pub is generally a good one with a fine range of well-kept cask ales.
The Guardian article included a production still (look at me, using industry jargon!) from the play that, in many ways, started it all. It was a shot from Luke Owen‘s Unscorched which was the first time I visited the Finborough Theatre (a place where I am now often recognised by the team), was almost my first visit to a pub theatre and was the play which started my obsession with new writing in the theatre. Since that day, my visits to the West End have declined to zero and my theatre-going has become increasingly dominated by new plays. My attendance of the classics has become limited to those staged by the Nuffield Theatre – but a short walk or bus-ride from my door – or at the cinema via NT Live (similarly physically proximate). This switch has also had the benefit of making my theatre-going budget stretch a lot further.
My visits to pub theatre – which are mostly in London (though I am tempted to try and set one up myself nearer to home) – have been somewhat restricted by the pain of getting to them from Southampton (and more significantly getting home again) by public transport. They tend to be located away from the centre of London on underground lines not served from Waterloo. However, on the Sunday before last I made a major transport breakthrough. I discovered that, via the magic of the Overground, I can be delivered from Clapham Junction via a very frequent service to West Brompton in less than 10 minutes. From there it is but a short walk to the Finborough. This knocks 45-60 minutes off my previous route via Waterloo and the Jubilee and District Lines and saves me nearly a fiver on my train ticket! This same little arc of the Overground also takes in Theatre 503 (another pub theatre) and the Bush Theatre (not in a pub, but still a small theatre producing new writing). I also have the feeling that the Overground is largely unknown to tourists, which eliminates a whole range of frustrations which plague its subterranean sibling. All hail the London Overground! Your rolling stock was not named Capitalstar in vain!
Using this new knowledge, I found myself in the Finborough Arms enjoying a very fine pint of Luppol (not a new high-performance lubricant for your engine, but an unfiltered ale by Clouded Minds brewery) a mere 90 minutes after leaving Southampton Central. I then enjoyed the drama of Late Company by the ridiculously young and talented Jordan Tannahill (he was 23 when he wrote it, and still hasn’t reached 30) another stunning Canadian play brought across the Atlantic by the Finborough team. If the opportunity arises, go see Late Company – it is an uncomfortable experience at times, but is wonderful, thoughtful writing. I then wended my way home via Theatre 503 and the excellent Sharp Teeth, starring inter alia The Greeners and Ben Norris.
Sharp Teeth is a cross-genre night taking in music and spoken word along the way which is usually resident in Bristol, but this was its first outing in London. Bristol is, in theory, closer and easier to get to than London – but the operators of our rail companies find it inconceivable that the resident of a provisional UK city should wish to visit a nearby provincial city for an evening of fun. Whether it be Salisbury, Bath, Chichester, Brighton or Bristol the last train back to Southampton is cunningly timed to ensure that any visit to the theatre (or similar cultural activity) will cause you to miss it. Is ATOC in the pocket of big B&B? Or is it just that the denizens of Southampton have a particularly lairy reputation?
Returning to Late Company, this is the fourth stunning play by a Canadian playwright I have seen in the last couple of years: two at the Finborough (the other being Proud by Michael Healey) and two at the Nuffield Theatre. This latter pair were performed by the Nuffield Youth Theatre, Girls like that and Consensual, both written by Evan Placey. These were both stunningly good productions but Consensual, in particular, never made you think about the word “youth” in “youth theatre”. For my money (and as paying audience, it was my money), it could stand with any professional production I’ve seen in recent years. The ambition of the NYT over recent years has been extraordinary. I’d never been to youth theatre before I moved to Southampton and only went the first time as I had a free ticket and figured “how bad can it be?”. I now book early for all their productions to make sure I get a seat: the performances are always worth seeing and they can tackle repertoire which the main theatre would struggle to programme economically.
I fear this post has wandered from its original theme of pub theatre, as many members of the NYT could not be legally served in a pub, but I like to feel there is a (tenuous) thread leading the reader through my rant: if not, can we agree to call it Joycean? It is also becoming increasingly clear that if I am forced to flee this country as an economic migrant, Canada is looking an increasingly attractive option. So I like to think we’ve all learned something today.