Kilburn pub to compete against big boys in Olivier awards

THIS Sunday, a shoestring production born in Kilburn’s Cock Tavern pub theatre goes head to head with the Coliseum and Royal Opera House at The Olivier awards.

Whether or not it wins the best new opera category, OperaUpClose’s production of La Boheme has already injected a burst of low-budget energy into London’s scene.

The gritty updating of Puccini’s classic from Paris to contemporary Kilburn – performed with young singers and a single pianist – transferred to Soho Theatre and won Best Off-West End Production in last month’s What’s On Stage Awards.

It also inspired The Cock’s artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher to turn legendary fringe venue the King’s Head in Islington, into a small-scale repertory opera house.

“It’s interesting to see what’s happened to a show from a pub in Kilburn that is competing against the big boys,” says Spreadbury-Maher, who runs both the King’s Head and The Cock.


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“The King’s Head is changing the purpose of the fringe and the existing opera tradition, it feels overdue, every other art form has been taken up by the fringe until now. Hopefully we are providing a side door into the art form for people who will sit at the back of a pub with a pint in their hands but not set foot in a big opera house.”

He adds: “I would earn more money scanning food at Tesco’s but I am happy – how many people get their own theatre and can do what they want with it? Being on the fringe has more freedom than larger subsidised houses. Our motto is never do the same thing twice and don’t do anything anyone else is doing.”

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The latest venture at The Cock throughout March and April is a double bill of world premieres of late Tennessee Williams plays marking the centenary of the playwright’s birth.

“There’s so much going on for Terence Rattigan’s centenary but very little happening for Williams in the theatre capital of the world,” he says.

“I got in touch with his estate about doing something and although we were the least likely of theatres they were so happy someone wanted to celebrate the birthday.”

Unwilling to settle for a revival of a well known classic, Spreadbury Maher opted for two previously unperformed one act plays which are due to be published on the centenary date of March 26.

“The estate has been careful to control the output of his work and it’s his final volume to be released. A Cavalier for Milady was thought unperformable because it requires the casting of a character with the acting skills of Olivier and the ballet skills of Ninjinsky. It’s an off the wall play that expresses his sexuality and relationship with his mother and sister, who had a lobotomy because she was schizophrenic.

“It has two grotesque figures, a troubled 25-year-old with the mental age of a six-year-old who is sat in a chair dressed as a Victorian child while her 60-something mother dresses as a tart getting ready to go out for a night. The girl is locked in her own world and apparitions appear as she flips through a history book.”

I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays is set in the 70s and deals with a group of actors in a rehearsal room, a money-driven director and an alcoholic playwright. The story of two lovers struggling in sleaze-ridden New Orleans is Williams examination, as an old man, of the youth of his day. “Williams had come out of a long stint in rehab and for a moment he was sober and that was the world of heroin use, murder and nightclubs he saw with unclouded eyes.

“You hear about undiscovered gems and think there is a reason why some aren’t done, but this is a fantastic play.”

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