After reopening last July after a brief period of closure, Theatre at the Tabard has grown to cement its reputation as one of West London’s best fringe/pub spaces.
With new production A Critical Stage opening on 31 May, I caught up with the venue’s directors Simon and Sarah Reilly to find out more about the show and their future plans.
Theatre at the Tabard has gone from strength to strength since reopening. How would you describe its place in the West London theatre scene?
Firstly, thank you for the positive observation.
There has been a real appetite for the return of the Tabard and for a local theatre that can put together a diverse range of plays, dramas, musicals and other events such as comedy and cabaret.
Our varied programming has allowed us to cater to a wide audience, appealing to both seasoned theatregoers and newcomers alike.
The Tabard is an 80-seat theatre which positions it at the larger end of the pub theatre circuit. With a fully raked auditorium and an intimate space, audiences are in touching distance of the action and with a great view of the stage from wherever they sit.
Being right next door to Turnham Green station means that we not only appeal to our local loyal audience but across the rest of London and beyond.
Our relaunch has been successful so far, with past shows being booked up for tours and transfers and our new season now programmed well into 2024.
It is truly an exciting time for the Tabard, firmly reestablishing itself as a vibrant and influential venue in West London.
A Critical Stage is a wartime piece about a critic, James Agate, and an actress, Gwen. Are critics still essential to the understanding and promotion of theatre, and has the landscape changed for the better as many other voices join the established press, or is there now too much ‘noise’?
A Critical Stage is a play about James Agate who was the eminent theatre critic of his day. His reviews were so widely read, and his criticism so respected, they had the power to make or break people’s careers.
His impact on the theatre, arts criticism, and the cultural life of Britain was enormous, and we think the position of critic remains one of huge responsibility.
James Agate himself had a different background to his fellow critics, having not attended university like his peers, and therefore he brought a different perspective to theatre.
In our modern age of self-publishing and online reviews, it is always my hope that this increase in a diverse range of voices will provide insightful analysis, constructive feedback, and thought-provoking new perspectives on theatre.
Unfortunately, though, the quality and credibility of critical voices online can now vary significantly, and it can be a challenge for readers to distinguish between those giving informed, insightful criticism compared with simply subjective opinions.
Either way, the trust between audiences, critics, and theatres has the potential to break down.
Luckily the good critics and websites generally stick around and are hugely respected especially in the studio theatre scene so, on the whole, we think the more diverse range of voices in theatre criticism has been a good thing.
What would, though, be good for the pub theatres, would be a bit more willingness amongst the mainstream and industry press to review our work and the work of others on the fringe.
With issues relating to homosexuality, race, and religion filtering through the play, it seems to have much to say to a modern audience. What do you think attendees will make of it?
The issues explored in the play were just as important during the Second World War as they are today. Perhaps even more so. Homosexuality was outlawed and the atrocities experienced by Jewish people during the war made it a particularly chilling time.
Whilst we, of course, still have a long way to go, we do hope that audiences will see how far we have come as a society and be thankful for living in a more welcoming world, albeit an imperfect one.
Above all, though, we believe audiences will enjoy these characters, the Blitz setting and an insight into the relationship between the critic and the artist.
Extremely witty and playful at times, the play speaks to universal themes of triumph over adversity, of love and compassion, and of conflict in its many forms, and has something to offer everyone regardless of their background or experience.
How do you think the pub theatre fringe is doing at the moment? The Tabard got involved with festival work from Vault – is this going to be a theme going forward?
We’re excited to be part of the vibrant London pub theatre scene alongside many other wonderful venues which, like us, are small independent theatres without the funding enjoyed by our larger counterparts.
Whilst it is challenging financially, it does give us the creative freedom to experiment and take a chance on something or someone new.
In our intimate space, which offers a close connection between artists and audiences, it is wonderful to be able to give opportunities to new and emerging artists.
We enjoyed offering a space for emerging companies to preview their shows ahead of the VAULT festival earlier this year, and we will do the same in July ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Of course, we do also have to balance new work alongside programming better-known shows (and big-name comedians) with wide appeal, being reliant as we are on box office income to support the running costs of the theatre.
But we’re confident that this variety in our programming is why our audiences keep coming back.
You’re very near to ArtsEd. Is there any link or planned link between you, or can you see that happening in the future?
ArtsEd is a great institution and we have had exploratory meetings with the school about using the theatre for performance opportunities. Whilst it is still early days, we hope we can offer the students a platform to showcase their work and talents in the future.
And, of course, we always welcome ArtsEd students to audition – indeed Amber Deasy, one of the wonderfully talented ensemble cast in our current show, Next Door’s Baby, is a recent ArtsEd MA graduate who is making her professional stage debut with us at the Tabard.
What have you been most proud of at Theatre at the Tabard so far?
Considering we have only been open since July 2022 (with the theatre having closed in March 2022 when the previous owners left), I am thrilled by what we have achieved in such a short space of time.
By the time we reach our one-year anniversary we will have produced four in-house productions and one co-production. We’ve welcomed writers, performers and creatives making their professional debuts and all of our productions, so far, have received excellent reviews and award nominations.
Most weeks the theatre is open every day, with one-night comedy, cabaret, talks and other events added in to complement our main theatre shows. We’ve hosted big name comedians including Lee Mack, Al Murray, Jenny Eclair and Simon Brodkin all in the first six months.
But most of all we are proud of the number of people who have, in equal measure, either said how relieved and overjoyed they are that the theatre is back, or have told us that they have lived in the area for years but this is their first visit.
We hope that is a sign of the appeal of our programming, and we look forward to welcoming many more new and repeat visitors in the coming years.
A Critical Stage runs at Theatre at the Tabard from 31 May to 17 June. Info and tickets at https://tabard.org.uk/whats-on/a-critical-stage/