Our latest instalment of Fringe Focus, highlighting London’s smaller performance spaces, returns to Islington to chat with the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub’s artistic director, Jack Robertson.
You can find the ORL a short walk from Angel Station (towards Sadlers Wells, rather than along Upper Street).
From 17 Oct – 4 Nov, the theatre plays host to Grimfest, “a celebration of dark and twisted theatre in the bleeding heart of London.”
Theatre website: https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/
You have recently become Artistic Director at the Old Red Lion. What attracted you to this particular venue?
Anyone who has visited this pub theatre will agree that it’s a truly incredible & unique venue – for better or worse!
It’s a family run independent business, and Helen (Devine), who has handled the theatre on and off for years, was so welcoming & encouraging when I first rocked up with my little show proposal.
Helen supported my company through a number of projects before inviting me to step into her shoes and I couldn’t be more grateful.
The whole place is held together with spit, grit and determination which has very much been my approach to creating theatre – so I reckon we’re a good fit! I hope I can welcome and encourage more companies & creatives in the same way.
This theatre has always been known for an eclectic fringe programme. What are your plans for the next year or so?
What we programme is very much dependent on what productions reach out to us! It’s as simple as that.
I would love to invite more regional companies to bring their work to our stage and showcase the talent that exists outside of London.
It’s very important to me that we continue to present a range of diverse and alternate voices on the fringe theatre circuit. I’m also hoping we see some bold & exciting productions of plays that are in need of a revival.
Times are tough so I think above all we need something that is going to really entertain us, lift our spirits and keep us going!
How does the ORL fit into the larger Islington theatre scene, and the London pub theatre/fringe as a whole?
There’s a lot of theatre going on in Islington and with so many fringe venues in London you can be spoilt for choice.
What I’d like to think is that the Old Red Lion has a solid reputation amongst aficionados but can also appeal to those who aren’t regular theatre goers.
We want to make sure people feel that this is a theatre for everyone and reflect that in the kind of shows we programme.
Turning to Grimfest, this is taking the place of the London Horror Festival at ORL and has eighteen varied shows (some direct from Edinburgh). Why should audiences come along?
GrimFest is not replacing anyone. The London Horror Festival is currently on hiatus and I hope it makes a triumphant comeback very soon! My first time on stage at the Old Red Lion was performing in a play as part of the LHF and it was a brilliant experience.
If anything, GrimFest is trying to maintain that platform for horror theatre, especially around spooky season and in such a fitting venue.
The pub itself is certainly haunted, whether you believe in ghosts or not it has a particular uncanny atmosphere which adds to the overall experience.
I would personally love to see more theatrical horror at the Old Red Lion all year round – it is an overlooked yet highly popular genre which attracts a wider audience who might not normally attend fringe theatre. And
I’m glad to say we have a fantastic range of shows at GrimFest this year – from the gothic classics of Edgar Allen Poe to grotesque physical comedy, contemporary fears and even folk stories with puppets, there’s something to suit any taste.
Please check out the full line up on our website at https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/Grimfest.html.
Have you thought about moving into digital theatre at all? Do you have an opinion on it from a wider accessibility perspective or as a new complementary way of presenting shows?
As a means of making our shows more accessible I think digital theatre is crucial to contemporary productions in reaching everyone who wants to enjoy them.
Admittedly our venue isn’t accessible to everyone and our resources are limited but it’s all about making theatre a more inclusive medium.
I’ve discussed the potential of live-streaming with a few producers already and would like to see more recordings that can showcase the work in our theatre to the wider world.
I don’t think anything can beat the experience of live performance but that doesn’t mean it’s only for those who can physically be in the room.
What’s the best thing about / USP of your venue?
As I’ve already said – the atmosphere of the Old Red Lion is palpable and one of a kind!
You might have to squeeze through a few Norwich City fans on match day to get upstairs but I reckon that’s part of it’s charm.
I like to think there’s an equal amount of passion for those watching theatre as there is for those cheering on the footie in the pub. Did I also mention it was haunted…?