Posts tagged ‘greenwich playhouse’

19 February, 2010

‘I’d rather be in the pub’ is not an excuse

Written for The Collective Review, 19 February 2010

It’s understandable that a lot of people would rather spend their evening in the pub than at the theatre.  Who cares if the tickets are more affordable than you might think?  Theatres are stuffy and elitist, plays are boring, and you can’t even fortify yourself beforehand or commiserate properly afterwards because the beer is expensive and the wine is expensive and nasty…

…all right, you’ve caught me; that was a test.  If you found yourself showering that paragraph in indignant spittle then give yourself a pat on the back and move on.  If, on the other hand, you found yourself nodding in agreement, keep reading:  this article is for you.

I’m taken by surprise on a regular basis by people (theatre people and ‘normal’ people alike) who have no idea that there are theatres in pubs.  It surprises me because I see plays staged in little studios above or behind London pubs all the time (I’m the British Theatre Guide’s current go-to guy for pub theatre), and because they seem to me to be such a winning formula.

In this city at least, pub theatres (and theatre pubs – there’s a delicate distinction) are everywhere.  The tickets and the drinks alike are affordable.  There’s none of that gin-quaffing air-kissing atmosphere that puts so many people off the theatre.  The sets and lighting are often basic, but that encourages directorial innovation, and there’s a wealth of interesting, well-performed work to be found as a result.  So how come everyone I talk to reacts like pub theatre is London’s best-kept secret?

I think it’s largely a marketing issue.  The first time I visit a particular pub theatre I often realise I’ve walked past the pub before without realising there was a theatre in it.  From the street, the only evidence that – for instance – the Oxford Arms in Camden also houses the Etcetera Theatre is a sandwich board in the porch.  Presumably the publicans are worried pub-only punters could be put off by the thought of sharing the bar with a bunch of ginned-up luvvies.

Equally, while they don’t deliberately obscure the fact, few theatres make a selling point of being situated in a pub.  It’s possible to book online and turn up at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and only then realise it takes its name from the pub it’s attached to; likewise the King’s Head or Hen and Chickens in Islington.  The name ‘Theatre503‘ in a listing or review does not immediately suggest a connection to the Latchmere pub in Battersea, and the Greenwich Playhouse’s website studiously avoids mentioning that it can only be accessed through an O’Neill’s.  They seem to want to be defined as theatres that happen to share premises with a pub, rather than the joint entity ‘pub theatre’.

It’s like the pubs and their theatres are determined to be the awkward bedfellows they are on paper – in which case we need to be the mutual friends determined to show them how perfect they actually are for one another.  No one’s consciously keeping people in the dark about the pub theatre movement, but people are in the dark nonetheless, and that benefits nobody.

18 November, 2009


Greenwich Playhouse, 17 November – 6 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Sell A Door Theatre’s performance-led production has nothing particular to add to Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange. There’s no enlightening reinterpretation, no fresh context or frame to refresh the nine-year-old text. But there doesn’t need to be. Penhall’s acerbic examination of race and mental health issues within the NHS and 21st century Britain at large feels as current as it did at the turn of the millennium.

Clearly recognising this, the company allow the text to do the talking, and provide three assured performances through which it can do so. Designer Emily Barratt keeps the staging curt – chairs, a water cooler and the requisite bowl of oranges on a pedestal – allowing the cast maximum space to perform (and, helpfully, the wide performance area of the Greenwich Playhouse lends itself to irate or nervous pacing).

Tarl Caple is engagingly earnest as psychiatrist Bruce Flaherty, whether digging for the causes of his patient’s episodes or defending his own professional integrity. Pete Collis is an ebullient Dr Robert Smith, likeable enough to encourage reasoned consideration of views that would have someone less charismatic painted rapidly as a stereotypical middle-management villain, more concerned with targets and beds than patient welfare. The pair seem to draw energy from one another, exciting the production’s energy levels whenever they butt heads, and both earn their climactic bouts of scenery-chewing several times over.

As Christopher, the young man that (the two colleagues disagree) is either schizophrenic, borderline neurotic/psychotic or simply black, Peter Muruako curveballs between skittishness and threatening self-assurance, and manages the exhausting task of maintaining a discernible emotional justification that strings his discrete actions together into a believable performance.

Unreal blue and orange lighting states accompanied by the sound of tinnitus evoke moments of pathos and bathos that highlight the dubious veracity of Christopher’s claims (or fantasies). Otherwise this is Penhall’s text presented unadorned, with nary a gimmick nor a flawed performance to distract from it.

Written by Joe Penhall

Crew includes David Hutchinson (director), Emily Barratt (designer) and Jamie Haining (lighting designer)

Cast includes Tarl Caple (Dr Bruce Flaherty), Pete Collis (Dr Robert Smith) and Peter Muruako (Christopher)

Need a second opinion?