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Palatial new home for King’s Head theatre

Pub venue that’s ‘punched above its weight’ will become part of nearby £400m development

04 August, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

The King’s Head pub theatre in Upper Street

IT was the first London pub theatre to open since the days of William Shakespeare, gave renowned British actors including Joanna Lumley and Hugh Grant their break, and supported the early work of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

Now the famous King’s Head Theatre, in Upper Street, has announced it is moving out of the eponymous pub and into a brand-new, 250-seat theatre just yards away as part of the £400million Islington Square development.

Developer Sager Group is turning the Grade II-listed Edwardian Royal Mail post office into a 263-home development with 108 serviced apartments, a cinema, two swimming pools and a gym. It has agreed a deal with the theatre believed to be worth £4m, allowing it to move into the basement of the historic building.

How the new King’s Head theatre could look after the move from it current home

A planning application for the theatre and 85-seat studio, with its own bar, foyer and facilities for actors, was submitted to Islington Council this week.

The plan is that the King’s Head Theatre will move into its new purpose-built space in autumn next year.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time for us, and for artists and audiences at the King’s Head Theatre,” said artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher.

“We’ve been working really closely with Islington Council, and our current landlords [Young’s pub company] and Sager.

Joanna Lumley and Simon Cadell starring in Noel and Gertie, at the King’s Head Theatre in 1983

“After 47 years it’s time to take that next step and to join the new league of off-West End theatres. We’re able to stretch things out ever further, and do more laboratory work, and work with people earlier in their career.”

While the new theatre is being built, the King’s Head Theatre will move to a temporary home just 10 doors up the road in the John Salt Bar, which is being adapted.

“It’s lovely that the community is keeping that cultural asset where it’s always been,” said Mr Spreadbury-Maher.

“And the great thing is the theatre is not going to miss a show because we’ve got this wonderful [temporary] place at the John Salt.”

The theatre, currently a 110-seater, still needs to raise another £2m to meet the £6m building cost of its new home through Arts Council funding and donations from charities, busines­ses and private donors.

Dan Crawford and, right, Adam Spreadbury-Maher

To drive the business forward Fiona English, former head of development at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, has been recruited and the new chairman of the board is James Seabright, an Olivier award-winning commercial producer. The theatre also believes that having its own bar will provide added financial security.

The pub, which Young’s bought in 2014 from Stephanie Crawford, the widow of theatre founder and impresario Dan Crawford in 2014, will stay open as a boozer. The existing theatre space will be turned into a dining area.
Giris Rabinovitch, CEO of Sager Group, said he first discussed working with the theatre in 2003.

“Ever since, we have continued those discussions with Stephanie Crawford who kept the theatre going during difficult times following Dan’s passing and more recently with Young’s and the King’s Head Theatre,” he said.

“We are, therefore, delighted to be able to honour Dan’s memory by announcing this news and to be supporting the King’s Head Theatre and the arts.”

Ms Lumley added: “It has always punched far above its weight; with these dazzling new planned facilities it can even offer comfort, hitherto pretty much undreamed of, and reliability.”

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