In February 2022, The Kings Head Theatre will present Barstools to Broadway, a celebration to mark the successes of the world-renowned pub theatre’s first 50 years, and it looks forward to the next 50 years in a new purpose built 220 seat Islington theatre due to open in late 2022.
Over the course of a week from 14 – 19 February, KTH50 Barstools to Broadway will see readings of five plays that started their lives in the Upper Street theatre, many for the first time since their original productions, with creative teams with links to the playwrights and original shows. Full creative teams and casting will be announced in the new year. Ticket prices will range from £10 – £250, with funds going towards supporting and sustaining the theatre’s work in the future.
Founded by original Artistic Director Dan Crawford, The King’s Head Theatre opened its doors behind a pub on Upper Street in 1970. Over the last 50 years, playwrights, plays and creatives that have passed through its doors have gone onto great heights: spring-boarding them from the Fringe into the West-End, Broadway and beyond.
The celebration will kick off on Monday 14 February with an event at the V&A in South Kensington, including a reading of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Third. Timberlake Wertenbaker was part of a generation of female playwrights whose early shows, such as “The Third” (1980), were staged as part of the King’s Head Theatre’s lunchtime theatre program. [In the 70s and 80s, lunchtime theatre was not an uncommon proposition, and this programming offered a platform to a group of people – including many women – which allowed them to experiment and grow as writers, and progress to main show success. Ten years after her lunchtime play at the Kings Head, Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good opened on Broadway.
The first of the plays to be read at the Upper Street venue will be Artist Descending a Staircase by Tom Stoppard, directed by Tim Luscombe, on Tuesday 15 February at 7.00pm. In addition to early career first chances, the theatre also maintained several long-term working relationships, such as that with Tom Stoppard. Artist Descending a Staircase (1988) began life as a radio play but Dan Crawford saw an opportunity to bring it to the stage. It also marked the return of Tim Luscombe to the venue, after working with them on a production of Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue, that had transferred to the West End. Stoppard’s play received similar acclaim and duly transferred to the West End as well, followed by a transfer to Broadway.
On Wednesday 16 February at 7.00pm, Stephen Jeffreys’ Like Dolls or Angels will be directed by Annabel Arden. Like Dolls or Angels (1977) transferred to the King’s Head Theatre after a successful run at the National Student Drama Festival. This marked Stephen Jeffrey’s first professional production, another example of the King’s Head Theatre championing early career playwrights. Jeffrey’s 1994 play The Libertine became a film starring John Malkovich and Johnny Depp.
Bryony Lavery’s Grandmother’s Steps will play Thursday 17 February at 7.00pm. Lavery’s second play, Grandmother’s Steps (1977), was also a lunchtime production. Les Oeufs Malades, the company that Bryony co-founded alongside Gerard Bell in 1976 was created to create roles for women. Bryony is also part of an extensive line-up of LGBT theatre makers that the King’s Head Theatre has supported in their early career. Lavery’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust recently opened at the Bridge Theatre.
The celebration climaxes on Friday 18 February at 7.00pm with Victoria Wood’s Good Fun.
Dan Crawford was an early supporter of Wood, transferring this, her second play, (1980) to the theatre in 1980. She would go on to repay this early support of her career by hosting many fundraising galas that were vital to keeping the theatre afloat in the latter years of Dan’s tenure.
Co-Artistic Director Mark Ravenhill said, “It’s been fascinating to rummage in the Kings Head archives. This week of readings is a fantastic celebration of some of our best work with audiences who have fond memories of the original productions and to others who were too young to enjoy them first time around. It’s a great way to begin the process of saying goodbye to our beloved but knackered pub theatre as we prepare for our move next door to a purpose built 220 seat theatre, a space for the next generation of theatre makers who I’m hoping will have the same cultural impact as the playwrights we’re celebrating in Kings Head 50’.