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Interview with Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury Maher

 

King's Head theatre 2 adam-spreadbury-maher 2

KINGS HEAD THEATRE (@KingsHeadThtr)

at King’s Head pub

115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN

http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/

 

Location

 

Easy to find and excellent transport links.  Bang in the heart of Islington’s trendy and eclectic Upper Street with its numerous cafes, restaurants and fashion boutiques. It is right opposite St Mary’s Church.  Ten minutes’ walk from both Highbury & Islington and Angel underground stations with two bus stops over the road/just one-minute walk (lines 4, 19, 30, and 43).  

 

Productions

 

A passion for work that is pushing the boundaries and often radical.  Eclectic tastes including New Work, Critical Theatrical revivals, Opera, Musical Theatre, and Queer Work.

 

Value Added

 

Ticket discounts for previews and a perks based donation scheme

King’s Head has a commitment to Equity LowPay/NoPay and offer many opportunities to theatre professionals

 

King’s Head Theatre Pub

 

Whilst visiting the historic King’s Head Theatre Pub you can enjoy a pre-theatre menu, great drinks in front of a roaring fire, see the images of the world’s famous stage faces.  Post-theatre you can listen to some of the best live music Islington has to offer.

 

DID YOU KNOW …

 

The King’s Head Theatre stands on a plot of land that has been used as a public house since 1543, The current building dates back to the 1800s.

 

The King’s Head Theatre is now 45 years old, being established by Dan Crawford in 1970 as the first theatre in a pub since Shakespeare’s day.

 

The pub is packed full of period details, including gas lights, the original bar, old photography, and coal fires that burn continuously throughout the winter.

 

The pub became well-known for ringing up pounds, shillings and pence until 2008, a full thirty-seven years after the rest of the UK had switched to decimal currency.

 

The King’s Head Theatre have helped launch the careers of many actors including Ben Kingsley and Alan Rickman.

 

In 2010, Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose Productions became the theatre’s resident company, and Adam Spreadbury-Maher was appointed the venue’s second Artistic Director (after Dan Crawford).

 

With the departure of OperaUpClose at the beginning of 2015, Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher refocused the venue’s artistic policy towards new work and critical theatrical revivals.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher greeted me with the words ‘I’ve only got 20 minutes’.  Not what a journalist likes to hear but he is in the process of completing an MBA.  So after being introduced to his excited little dog, Tickets, I start asking the questions.  

 

I’ve been keeping a close watch on King’s Head theatre and its programme of radical work, so is it theatre that aims to change the world?  

 

“Conduit for conversation I think.  Changing the world might be a little bit OTT.  There may be occasions when it does.  As a full time role, no. That’s not to say that I haven’t directed and produced work that has changed something:  SOMEONE TO BLAME, and I produced LA BOHEME which won the Olivier”.

 

Not only did their production of La Bohème win a Whatsonstage award for Best Off-West End Production, the company also scooped the Olivier for Best New Opera Production– despite competition from the Royal Opera House and the London Coliseum.

 

“It changed the Opera again.  Pretty important Tennessee Williams work too.  I’m quite intent on planting seeds in terms of trainee director programme, and writing-initiatives such as Without Decor, Festival46. The Adrian Pagan is a big deal, not just a pat on the back, it’s actually giving a full production.”

 

Spreadbury-Maher scoops up Tickets, who has been scratching his thigh madly hoping for some attention.  

 

“Fuck, we’re aloud to Fail, right?”

 

He’s clearly very fond of the terrier and as Tickets settles on his lap he asks me questions about myself.  His Australian accent is strong and his appearance dark and hirsute.  Adam is a person who likes to make a connection.  There is a moment of triumph for him when he finds out that Tickets and myself both have our roots in Yorkshire.  Conscious of time I’m eager to find out more about programming at King’s Head.

 

“Predominantly it must not have been seen anywhere else.”There’s a moments pause as he considers the question further.

 

“Sometimes we’re asked to go and see work.  Basically I need a reason to see this. I look for my own personal taste but sometimes I can see audiences will want this.  I don’t want to direct this, but it’s important to look for opportunities for trainee directors and anything that creates employment for actors.  Sometimes we bring things back for extended seasons.   We chose to bring in-house productions back, and so provide further opportunities for audiences to see in-demand work, and its more employment for actors. We can have four shows on at any one time, I like to have a balance, four shows allow us to do that.”

 

King’s Head has a very healthy following and I wonder whether it’s mainly an Islington audience.

 

“We have a very faithful local audience but we have technology.  People are able to travel across London and even internationally.”

 

Rushing on, I observed that the LGBT ‘season’ never seems to stop.   This seems to vex him even further.

“Are you homophobic Heather?”  I’m a little taken aback.

“Most theatres stick to their straight season.”

Then he softens when he remembers that an LGBT ‘season’ was advertised

on King’s Head website.

“King’s Head has a long history of doing queer work.   It has the longest running off west end production ever, that is F*cking Men.”

I need to have the word ‘queer’ clarified.

“Anything that’s not heteronormative.  I’m hoping to expand that portfolio wider to actually celebrate that.  It has been predominantly gay men, but we’re expanding, doing more work with lesbian theatre.  I’d like people to think more about our gay work the same way as our other work.   We also have other Artistic interests: opera, musical theatre, revivals new writing and queer work. I think that’s pretty eclectic, don’t you?   If it was all heteronormative there would be nothing for an audience member to engage with whereas if its gay, its more the case ‘I see myself in this’.  That’s the audience leaning forward, its asking you to think and be part of that communion.”  

 

As we’ve been speaking two people have entered and he introduces them to me; they are both on the director’s scheme.  So it seems pertinent to ask for Spreadbury-Maher’s best advice to aspiring directors.

 

“Prepare.  Try not to worry.  I know that’s hard.  Don’t make yourself look like a dick in front of someone important.  Fail to plan: Plan to fail”

 

I ask for further clarification while he asks me more questions about ‘where I come from’.  Eventually he concedes that he likes my voice. That’s nice to know.  one compliment deserves another so I ask him about that image of himself on Twitter on the beech showing off his hairy chest.  

 

“I don’t have as much ego as all that!  We were on holiday together” (the King’s Head team) and the office murmur their approval.   He does however, ask me what I thought of it, so I tell him; “very nice” (I’ve opened it three times)!

 

When the laughter dies down, my cheeks still glowing, I ask him if he has further ambitions for King’s Head Theatre?  He gives me a long list.

 

“Co-producing outside of King’s Head (including a venue in London but I can’t tell you about that yet).

Taking work to Dublin gay festival, and Edinburgh festival.

Paying artists more than they’ve ever been paid before and producing more.  

Giving trainee directors an opportunity to work.

Professional actors directing season at Kings Head.”

 

As an aside, he tells me that he bought a pretty blue Rover with leather seats, in Rickmansworth.  He’s triumphant now, because I’ve already told him I live in Ricky.  Now here’s another connection.   Blue is my favourite colour too.  While we are discussing favourites I ask him which is his all- time favourite theatrical productions at King’s Head Theatre.

 

“Trainspotting”.  

 

He is the co-director of this immersive show which is currently at King’s Head (to be followed by a national tour).

“I took a break from directing for a couple of years.  I was sick of doing the same thing over again.  I hit some artistic walls, so I spent time producing and setting up a new team.  It was my first time back and I was literally taking the seats out of the auditorium.”

 

We compared ‘shit stains’ on our clothing after being at last night’s fully immersive production of Trainspotting.  

 

I ask him as an Australian in London, is there something he brings to his Artistic Direction that he feels comes from his Australian heritage?

 

“Australian programming, Australian plays.  Culture of the building of organisation. “

This needs further explanation but he’s finding it difficult to express himself, so he looks around the office for some support.

“You know what I mean, what do I mean, how can I say it? You know what I’m trying to say”

“Yes” they say.

He turns to another one “You know what I’m trying to say”.

“Yes” she says, but he gets no actual help.  

“How can I say this without offending the English? No I’m not going to say it.”

This is truly vexing, so I force it out of him.  

“Sometimes a lack of middle class and English wanking.  High ranking middle class tosh; it involves an unnecessary amount of bullshit.  We’re open and call a spade a spade.  Equal opportunities are fought for, particularly ageism.  I mean young as well as old”.

Copyright: LONDON PUB THEATRES MAGAZINE LTD

Adam Spreadbury-Maher 2

Tickets has spent most of interview lying upside down on his lap being caressed by Adam.  Clearly a great stress buster but then Adam has another stress buster.

 

He likes to run.

 

He’s been running marathons to raise funds for

King’s Head Theatre and I figured that people

would want to hear about that.

 

“Not London or Paris or anything Silly like that.”  

He mentions Clonakilty in Ireland and the fact that

he has an Irish passport.

“I ran 4 1/2 for Kings Head 45th birthday.  I love them,I find them quite meditative and I have some of my best thinking and emailing while I’m running

marathons.  When you’re running a marathon you

should be able to talk and work.  if not you’re running too fast; you’re going to hurt yourself.” He did 40 laps around the king’s head block and also did the actual Marathon to Athens where he has his home.  When he’s in London he lives in a wagon,

an RV in a field just inside Hertfordshire, off the grid.  

 

“I can’t afford to live in London”.

 

He is standing and I look at my watch, the 20 minutes is up.  He walks around his desk picking up what he needs. “I like you” he tells me and he thanks me for including King’s Head in my guide to London Pub Theatres.  “Anything else you want to know”.  He hands me his card and I’ve got the HOT LINE TO ADAM SPREADBURY-MAHER.

Copyright: LONDON PUB THEATRES MAGAZINE LTD

February 2016

Adam Spreadbuy-Maher