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Re-Staging our History

11 February 2022

“When we talk about the landscape of British fringe theatre as we know it today, we’re really talking about a world that sprung up around the King’s Head Theatre and one or two other venues around that time.” 

Ben Anderson started at the King’s Head Theatre as a trainee director in 2017 and has always been struck by the sense of history as you step into the pub. Walking to the theatre, you’re surrounded by the photos and posters from productions that cover every wall. The project began with the idea to take this history off the page and walls, back into the space where it all began. Ben has worked as the Creative Director and Lead Researcher on KHT50: Barstools to Broadway, a celebration of our history with three main aims:

  • To continue the 50th Birthday celebrations that were interrupted by the pandemic: celebrating the theatre’s rich past as it looks towards the future and upcoming move to its new home.
  • To shed light on work that may have been forgotten, offering opportunities for old friends to return to the theatre and to engage a new generation: onstage and off.
  • To kick-start a wider conversation about the history of the theatre, and to ensure that it is preserved for future generations.

We interviewed Ben to find out how he approached the mammoth task of celebrating the history of the King’s Head Theatre, as we look towards and exciting future in a new 220 seat theatre just around the corner... 

“The research has taken me nearly two years, on and off. So far we’ve found nearly 1400 shows that were produced at the theatre. There’s been a lot of diving into archives to rediscover lost scripts and, as you can imagine, it’s given me plenty of reading material! While there are so many more amazing plays that we could have chosen, I’ve curated a festival that I feel offers not only showcases excellent plays but also tells the story of the King’s Head Theatre. I’ve also been collecting images and posters from the shows, to help tell the story of the theatre and these shows from another angle.

For the last few months, I’ve been working more widely with the rest of the incredible team at the theatre as they bring the festival and the shows to life with full casts and creative teams. It’s really exciting to see this all taking shape and to know that many of these plays are being revived for the first time.”

Why did you pick these plays? 

Each play is worthy of revival in its own right but within the festival they also represent a different aspect of the King’s Head Theatre’s long and varied history:

The Third – recognises the work of female playwrights, such as Timberlake Wertenbaker, who emerged through the King’s Head theatre’s lunchtime programme.

Artist Descending A Staircase ­– celebrates a longstanding relationship between the theatre and Tom Stoppard. It’s one of the many shows that transferred to the West End and Broadway.

Like Dolls or Angels ­– marks the King’s Head Theatre’s tradition of supporting emerging artists and new writing by reviving Stephen Jeffreys’ first play.

Grandmother’s Steps – honours the diversity of lunchtime theatre programming and the experimental work of collaborative companies, such as Bryony Lavery and Les Oeufs Malades, in the 1970s.

Good Fun – commemorates the theatre’s longstanding relationship with Victoria Wood by reviving the first of her shows to be booked by the theatre.

Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens – is a celebration of the theatre’s continual support of LGBTQ work, as well as our tradition of bringing American writers to the UK (A thread that we’re continuing by bringing the writer, Bill Russell, back to direct the show!).

Why is this festival so special? 

It’s the people that make theatre, on-stage and off. This festival is not just a celebration of the amazing work that has been staged here but also of all of the people who played a vital role in making that happen.

Join King's Head Theatre to celebrate 50 years of outstanding fringe at Upper Streets most famous Pub Theatre, and support us as we move to our new venue that'll secure the future of the theatre for years to come