Posts tagged ‘white bear’

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.

9 January, 2009

Studies for a Portrait

White Bear Theatre Club, 6 January – 1 February 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

All four characters in Studies for a Portrait are homosexual men, but the overriding theme of the play is not homosexuality. Whatever might be wrong with it, the play deserves some praise for reminding people that gay characters can explore and embody other important issues than their own sexuality.

Celebrated American artist Julian Barker (Martin Bendel), a contemporary of Warhol and Bacon, is dying of pancreatic cancer. While Julian attempts gamely to continue painting, drinking and shagging until he drops dead, politicians, admirers and former lovers emerge from the woodwork to squabble over his legacy – both financial and emotional.

Each has a genuine claim over Julian, whether as a commodity, an inspiration, a benefactor, or simply as a friend. Which of these claims, the play asks, is most valid? To whom does a public figure’s legacy rightfully belong – to himself, to his public, or to his bereaved?

Julian is a largely offstage presence, cloistering himself in his studio and allowing his devotees to fight amongst themselves. Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher resists confrontational histrionics in favour of calculating nastiness, enabled by some delicious turns of phrase from playwright Daniel Reitz. Julian’s current and former lovers, Chad (James Holmes) and Marcus (David Price), have an especially honest and vicious enmity.

Beyond these enjoyably frank exchanges the play is heavy on flimsily motivated exposition. Backstory details are revealed in monologue to the subject, who presumably already knows his own life story, but sits through the lecture anyway for the audience’s benefit. Spreadbury-Maher’s directorial understatement allows the dialogue to shine when it’s good, but leaves the stage too static when exposition slows the pace.

Stylistically and thematically, Studies for a Portrait breaks no new ground, but it does attempt to sow something worthwhile there. Every play like this one is another step towards relocating non-heterosexual people from the LGBTQ Theatre bracket into the artistic mainstream. It isn’t an overt call to arms, but it’s one more raised fist in an invisible revolution.

Written by Daniel Reitz

Crew includes Adam Spreadbury-Maher (director)

Cast includes Martin Bendel (Julian), Stephen Hagan (Justin), James Holmes (Chad) and David Price (Marcus)

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