Interview with Artistic Director, Bebe Barry
Katzpace is the youngest pub theatre and It’s far from conventional, being set in a bierkeller. The Artistic Director, Bebe Barry, is an actress who has been working on these premises for some time. In the early days she was working behind the bar along with other actors, when she spotted the potential of this place.
Meeting Bebe for the first time it is easy to be struck by her friendliness. There is lot of power in her smile.
Fairly tall with a slight frame, by her own admission, she’s gangly so perhaps that’s why the seating here, at Katzpace, isn’t cramped, there is leg room. Even the benches have depth to park your backside properly on the comfy cushions. This was one of the expenses of creating the new space along with lighting rigs and rostrums. All thanks to the Katzenjammers who forked out to make it a viable space for theatre. This versatile space, a simple rectangle with upright beams supporting the ceiling, has a real feel-good atmosphere.
Bebe says it all came about by ‘happy accident’. She’s LAMDA trained and has a theatre company. She explains that she’s done a few shows but with little funding and not much experience, its difficult to get started. “It was quite hard to get anywhere. I was contacting places trying to get stuff on, not knowing where to take anything with no guidance and then we all worked in these pubs, we were all the actors behind the bar …”
There are two pubs here connected by the kitchen. The Sheaf next door is the same company and most of them worked there. In Katzenjammers, there is a bierkeller upstairs and a restaurant downstairs which opens three night a week and features an ‘Oom-Pah band’. Bebe approached the manager to see whether they could use this room on the days they close.
“They helped us out arranging the layout for us. We started doing pop ups, then people started contacting us asking to put something on. The two shows we did, brought in some money and business which was good for the pub”. On the same floor, there was an empty stock room and when Bebe was looking for something more permanent she took it over, painted it black, and got some upholstery for the benches. “I started small to get the money flowing. The first performance was about testing it out before it opened properly. The show was Sad Girls, from a company now called Three Trees theatre. They were all from LAMDA and they also run #BossyForum. It went well, and people came, so it was good for both sides”.
Bebe couldn’t make it plainer that she’s passionate about helping companies get started. She works with these companies on box office split with no upfront charges. The bierkeller lets her use the space without any rental charge, clearly, they’re delighted with the revenue from sales of bier and sausages! The manager Mahmoud (ironically known as Moody) is really supportive. “He helps us so much, he often does the bar downstairs” says Bebe. When the theatre is in operation Sunday to Wednesday (and some Saturday matinees), the restaurant serves as foyer, with a bar and a box office. (Food is available in the bierkeller upstairs).
This very large room is partitioned off with curtains, so it has an intimate feel for audiences. It’s a great place to meet the actors and soak up the theatricality of the place. Lots of companies thrive on chatting with people after the productions. This has worked particularly well in their first programme. “We’re always open to having a chat” says Bebe who often works the box office. “It’s one of the loveliest things to chat with the audience.” She says that the first programme included a show about Sarah Bernhardt starring and created by Hilary Tones. “People in the bar had their own stories about Bernhardt. They would chat about it, and exchange stories”.
They had an amazing debut with Pebbles by Bebe Sanders and the next show nearly sold out too. Not bad for the Winter programme when it can be hard to get an audience. Right now, it’s ramping up again in preparation for the next programme. In the early days Bebe was managing everything solo whilst also working with her own company, Exploding Whale Theatre. She’d have a have drink with actors to get to know them and befriend everyone. She says she just loves people who just come in and really want to put on a show. “No apologies, they’re just so excited to put it on, I want to accommodate people who need a place to start. Companies with a lot say. We need to do box office splits because those companies that don’t have means to do it elsewhere, can come here, put something on and invite industry people down; people who need to see.” It’s a safe place for people to take risks. It’s so easy to be swept up on the business side of it, but Bebe wanted it to be a space where people can be creative.
It has been paying off, and Bebe is no longer running the space solo. Now Greg Birks is an Associate Director which Bebe admits has made her life so much better. “Having someone else there to bounce ideas off is the main thing. He’s great with website kind of things. He said, ‘we should have a new website, we should revamp it’ and I said okay and two hours later he said, ‘here it is!’”
Hester Tallack has also joined the team. “She’s basically comes in and does a lot with front of house, she’s a real people’s person” says Bebe. “Running things when we’re not there, we’ll introduce her more to the artistic side in the next few weeks. We’re feeling it out, figuring it out, she does a lot of shows when they’re on. Meets the actors, does front of house, the bar opening and makes sure everyone’s in the right place.” They’re all actors, so when Bebe sees things are not been done properly, she feels completely justified is blurting ‘bloody actors’ because she’s one as well. Fortunately, the three of them have struck the right balance in their temperaments. Hester’s hard-working bubbly enthusiasm brings the energetic side, whilst Greg is the firm hand, which Bebe says helps her. “if I’m wavering he says let’s do this and he gets on with it. He won’t let you fav around. I need someone like that because I’m loopy, so we balance each other quite well”.
The in-house production will come from their two Associate Companies: Lidless and Exploding Whale Theatre. Lidless had two shows before Christmas including Pebbles, and they’re opening at the Pleasance with Moonfleece, fully supported by the playwright Philip Ridley.
Exploding Whale Theatre is Bebe’s own company. Her show Heroes, started at Katzpace before going to Edinburgh festival where the AD at Bridge House Theatre saw it and immediately wanted it for a two-week run. The show is now being taken to Brighton Fringe and has been selected to open the Sydenham Arts Festival in June. It’s a show with David Bowie themes so it appropriately ended it tour in his home town, Sydenham.
A play about Bowie set in the 70s seems a strange choice for Bebe, but she explains the inspiration came from her Dad who wanted to write a book – Heroes. As she shares the story of the play it becomes clear she’s a confident story-teller, with a lot of love for this project. To say it’s a coming of age play about two boys and one girl, doesn’t do it justice, as it covers themes of domestic violence from a drunken dad, bunking off school and hiding out in a den. Watching top of the pops and seeing David Bowie performing Star Man becomes a mantra for the gang. For Bebe, it was an opportunity to perform a role she’s always wanted. “I never really thought I’d end up writing a play, but it came from wanting to play a certain role in a show. All my favourite books were about the outsider - Huckleberry Fin - and I was like why are there no girls in this. Kind of came from wanting those roles around but they’re not there. Why can’t a girl bunk off school and live in the woods, why are they always boys.” So, she made the Huckleberry Fin character female. There is another play in the pipeline which will be announced later this year.
KATZPACE Studio Theatre
At Katzenjammers bierkeller,
24 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TY
Katzpace is a new 50-seater theatre in the heart of London Bridge, found in the basement of Bavarian Bierkeller, Katzenjammers, giving the space a quirkier take on pub theatre. They believe in showcasing original and exciting work, whether it be new writing or a new adaptation of an existing piece of theatre. In addition, they are home to two resident theatre companies whose work has already gone on from Katzpace to sell out runs at the Edinburgh fringe, Bridge House SE20 and The Pleasance. So, grab a large tankard of bier, enjoy an original piece of theatre, and have a few real belly laughs with people having a fun night out. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place.
Anything goes, but Katzpace is hot on originality, whether it be new writing or a new adaptation of an existing piece of theatre, they want audiences to be excited by what they see. Performances are Sunday to Wednesday with some Saturday matinees.
Katzpace Studio Theatre are passionate about providing a platform for those who may not have the experience, funds or team to develop and showcase their work elsewhere. The aim is to give new companies the chance to be seen by members of the industry where it wouldn't usually be possible. It allows complete artistic freedom to try out new ideas which in turn brings exciting possibilities for audiences.
Katzenjammers is a cool modernist take on a traditional Bavarian Bierkeller, brimming with atmosphere. It’s a beautiful vaulted space with a specially commissioned standing exhibition by award winning photographer John Ross. The Bierkeller boasts a fabulous steel-clad bar serving a huge range of drinks as well a full menu of Bavarian food, all served by beautiful waitresses clad in contemporary Bavarian uniforms. If you want a taste of Germany, this is the place.
Located right next door to the Borough Market, the nearest Tube / overground Rail is London Bridge (on the Jubilee & Northern Lines). Take the Borough Market Exit.
DID YOU KNOW
Katzpace have two Associate Theatre Companies:
EXPLODING WHALE THEATRE are an exciting new theatre company comprised of graduates from the UK's leading drama schools. Their debut show 'Heroes' has enjoyed sell out runs at Katzpace, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Bridge House SE20
LIDLESS THEATRE has an impressive set of credits, with members having performed at The National, The Park, The Hampstead, appearing in popular BBC show Broadchurch and having worked with the likes of Matthew Bourne and Jethro Compton. Their show "Pebbles" marked the official opening of Katzpace and they recently performed "They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me," supported by Amnesty International. They are soon to perform "Moonfleece' by Philip Ridley at The Pleasance in their Spring season.
Bebe really wants to support emerging companies and give them a platform to get themselves out there. “New companies have so much to give. It’s not true you’ll see so much more from more established artists. Some of the most polished first shows really feels like the company have been together for ages. New companies have so much riding on it, they go the extra mile, there’s so much going into it.” There’s something to be said for new idea and completely new way of doing things that you haven’t necessarily seen before.
Plus, the bierkeller is different, with traditional German beers and food in a modernist setting, which feeds into the atmosphere. They get repeat custom and people often come in from next door. Companies who’ve performed here, will come back and watch other shows to support each other. Bebe says “there’s a unity going on - they like to know what people are up to.” So, grab a large tankard of bier, enjoy an original piece of theatre, and have a few real belly laughs with people having a fun night out. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place.
Bebe Berry was chatting with Heather Jeffery, Editor of London Pub Theatres (4.18)
All rights reserved London Pub Theatres Magazine Limited April 2018