The King’s Head Theatre stands on a plot of land that has been used as a public house since 1543, though for most of its history it has been known as the King’s Head Tavern (the name itself coming from an old story about Henry VIII supposedly stopping for a pint on his way to see his mistress). The current building dates back to the 1800s.
Dan Crawford took over the venue in 1970, and founded the King’s Head Theatre in a room that had been used as a boxing ring and pool hall, establishing the first pub theatre in London since Shakespeare’s day. Under his leadership the pub became well-known for ringing up pounds, shillings and pence until 2008, a full thirty-seven years after the rest of the UK had switched to decimal currency. Five years on, the old till still sits behind the bar. The pub is packed full of other period details, including gas lights, the original bar, old photography, and coal fires that burn continuously throughout the winter.
Crawford led the venue for thirty-five years, establishing it as a breeding ground for new talent and great work. The walls of the pub display the multitude of famous faces that began their career here. In 2010, Olivier Award-winning UpClose Productions became the theatre’s resident company, and Adam Spreadbury-Maher was appointed the venue’s second Artistic Director, working alongside Robin Norton-Hale who leads the company’s opera programme. UpClose Productions produce at least eight shows a year, and curate the work of visiting companies all year round. The venue’s reputation for nurturing new talent continues, with pioneering Trainee Director scheme (winner of the Royal Anniversary Trust Award in 1992) still being run by UpClose Productions. Recent graduates have gone on to work at the National Theatre, RSC, Lyric Hammersmith and the Globe, plus many other internationally-renowned companies.
The building is continually evolving. Recent additions to the theatre include the introduction of allocated seating and new house lights in the auditorium, with many more exciting and innovative changes planned for the future.