Management here at Drayton has a different structure to most pub theatres. The previous pub manager, Leigh Phillips, re-opened the theatre in 2009 and was instrumental in getting it to where it is today. Miles Partridge has been manager since February 2017. Audrey is the single full time member of staff to run the theatre and entertainment in the pub. She is a dramaturg, writer, and actress who recently moved to England to become part of the “incredible theatre scene here in London”.
Gene is overseer and mentor to Audrey and Miles. He knows about theatre law and contracts. He’s available to help when tricky decisions have to be made, perhaps a conflict of interest in programming where two plays are coming up against each other. He’s trusted to make that decision. They also have a freelance technical Manager, Andy Hill, who has been an absolute God send for the theatre going way beyond his role in volunteering practical help.
Audrey was an intern at Theatre 503 which she found invaluable. “What didn’t I Iearn? It was a crash course in how a small pub theatre is built with a team of 3 paid full-time staff and 3 paid part-time.” Gene cuts in, “Bizarrely I ran it. It used to be the Latchmere, I took it over when it became 503; set up a charitable trust with a board of trustees, took on Tim and Paul as joint artistic and general managers and then I moved to Programming Director once I’d got everything set up and I did a further 5 years there.”
Gene comes across as erudite, and this knowledge he is generously sharing, giving something back after having had a long and successful career in theatre. He was also AD of Jermyn Street Theatre, and is guest director of Above The Stag.
Having worked with Drayton since 2014 his expertise is used to help incoming companies especially new companies who know a little less about putting on a show. There are no in-house shows planned at Drayton at the present time. However, Gene has had some in the past: a play written by himself, another he directed for a four-week run, and he has also directed three Sunday/Monday slots of new writing in development.
Audrey hasn’t inserted herself artistically (yet), she’s more interested in getting her “feet under solid programming, building a wider base.” She handles day to day, admin and communication. She makes sure everyone is comfortable coming in, and she has a hand in choosing shows. Whilst Audrey’s pleasing all-American accent, gives away her origins, she has a very broad base; she has known people “all over, and seen shows all over the world”. She has also been free-lance producer in the past and at 503.
Drayton Arms is situated in a very French part of London and this is reflected in French classics and contemporary work being shown here. There’s always something for Bastille festival. This year the Misanthrope is being done in rep, performances alternate in English and French.
There is also a strong interest in all kinds of musical theatre here. “It’s important in classical theatre, the history of Greek theatre is heavily musically based” Gene explains. “Musicals come more from Passion plays; music played a part in communicative plays, because no-one read - it was an aural and musical tradition”.
Audrey says she’s “open to all work” but they are designating themselves as a “place in the fringe for new musicals, operas and classics”. They are looking for three to four week runs, “works to foster: Intimate spaces can take on a whole new form, when forced to strip it down to the bare bones, so we love to have that”. They also have one week and Sunday/Monday slots where they can be “far more flexible - we want this to be a place where people can try out new things including readings and stand-up comedy”. They even had a magician recently.
Essentially, they are giving people an opportunity, according to Gene “there’s nothing comparable, companies are given permission to fail so they can take bigger risks”. They are very keen on bigger shows and developing new companies, “not necessarily young people but new companies, if someone wants to set up a new company and have a go at this game we’re in, we’ll do as much as we can to help.”
As the theatre is owned by the brewery, they are tied closely together. The theatre space is also used as an asset for the building and pub. Sometimes people run lectures or meetings, local people use it 3 or 4 times during the week.
One of the advantages to that, is the discounts on food and drink when you book your tickets. Gene asserts that “it should be a whole event when you go to the theatre, there’s this harmony between post theatre and pre-theatre dining, the experience should start at the door when the audience member comes in”. In the UK it’s very much a social activity, it’s part of our culture.
At Drayton the model is a financial one, which benefits everyone. There is a close connection between the bar and the theatre. Audrey worked behind the bar for a year and half. She knows the offices and the cellar, and if you need a keg changing … she is the renaissance woman of pub theatres.
Another innovation at Drayton Arms are the brand new ‘Eddies’ awards. The first company to benefit was Fat Rascal with Buzz The Musical. They had a successful three week run here before taking it to Brighton and they are coming back. “We’re extending the lead in time before shows go on in the fall” says Audrey. “It will be a longer time for marketing, a longer time for getting things in place before coming.” She is currently applying to get funding from their parent company. It’s likely to bring in an influx of new customers to see these award-winning shows.
It’s something they are particularly proud to host along with their current programme which includes contemporary theatre, a classic, and a musical. They’ve just had their very first panto. “We’re doing it again this year, adult, bawdier (it’s the same company that did Buzz)” says Gene.
Gene is very proud of Drayton after being part of the development process. When he came in “literally the walls were falling down, bad seating, bad site lines, no tech and now it’s this lovely 51 seater in a beautiful setting”. That chimes with the amount of people now knowing they are here and applying to bring shows. They are getting so many request for their Sunday/Monday development slots which are such good value. “There’s very little risk trying stuff out here. We have middle aged, middle class audiences and we’re also getting a much younger audience whilst keeping our traditional supporters. It’s funky and serious”. Gene gives one of his rare smiles, “It was like the Marie-Celeste, now its acorn and oak”. He has his sights set high as he adds, “Finborough is the mighty Oak”.
It’s an incredible theatre space for polished high quality productions with more money. At the same time they “want to be seen to be taking some risks”. Gene is mindful of the arguments surrounding equity. He is adamant companies must pay their artists. At the same time, he appreciates some newer companies are working collaboratively as a profit-share. He applauds them taking that level of risk. Audrey and Gene would love to be considered “a hub, a work space, an open door, have anyone come in and pitch anything and be listened to”. With Gene and Audrey at the helm it seems this theatre is on the cusp of achieving their ambitions.
Audrey Thayer and Gene David Kirk were chatting with Heather Jeffery, Editor of London Pub Theatres Magazine
Interview with Programme Director Audrey Thayer and Executive Director Gene David Kirk
Meeting Audrey Thayer and Gene David Kirk for the first time, they are friendly and polite. We sit together in the pub which is quiet, an ideal place for meetings in salubrious surroundings.
Gene is actively looking for shows to bring to Drayton Arms. He’s been to the Edinburgh festival for fourteen consecutive years and Audrey is joining him this year. Gene also goes to Brighton and is keeping an eye on Camden fringe, he says his “presence at festivals is essential”. They are slowly letting people know they are here.
They have just installed new raked seating with improved sight lines, it’s a brand-new sparkly room, with comfort for the audience, upgraded technical equipment, and full blacks. It is a more flexible studio theatre now they have created a studio box, with a back-stage area. The theatre is moving into its next phase.
DRAYTON THEATRE (@draytonarmsSW5)
above The Drayton Arms
153 Old Brompton Road,
London SW5 0LJ
Drayton Theatre is owned by the brewery, housed in a superb Jacobean building, they aim to give you a holistic experience combining your theatre trip with pre or post show dining at very reasonable prices. As well as top drawer established companies, they foster promising new and emerging companies. You can take a chance on something radical, support up-coming talent or ground yourself in something more traditional.
Drayton favours musicals, opera, and classics with a particular emphasis on showing inventive new companies. They are branching out into annual panto, and there are short runs (Sunday/Monday) which provide a showcase for all kinds of theatre from stand up to experimental theatre. Shows are nightly at 8pm with occasional matinees.
Ideal location to make a day of it, close to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s also on the nose for exploring Kensington, Earls Court and Chelsea.
C1 and 430 stop outside the pub
Gloucester Road (Piccadilly/District/ Circle Lines). South Kensington (Circle, Piccadilly and District Lines). Earls Court (10 minute walk).
West Brompton (15 minute walk).
For Audiences: Save up to 25% off food (sometimes includes drinks) when you pre-order with your ticket.
For smaller/emerging theatre companies: Hire theatre for free, Sunday/Monday with a minimum occupancy of 25 people per night. (There’s a surcharge to pay if this is not reached).
Whether you’re supporting your local, or coming in from surrounding areas, or a tourist out to experience ‘traditional British’ you're destined for a fabulous night out in South Kensington. With generous discounts on fresh seasonal food and drink (when ordering your theatre tickets), it’s one of the most stylish pubs in this prestige location. With floor to ceiling windows and imposing Jacobean features, you can enjoy your pint of real ale in one of the cosy corners or outside on the off-street heated terrace.
It’s also a great place for rubbing shoulders with theatre professionals who frequently use the space for meetings or enjoying a drink post show.
DID YOU KNOW …
The Drayton Arms was originally built in 1860 and then rebuilt to its current design in 1891.
Originally a function room, the first theatrical use of the space was just after the war as a rehearsal room for many of the actors from the newly formed BBC TV who lived locally.
In 1985, The upstairs room at the Drayton Arms was then being used as a rehearsal studio for Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. Hilary Wood had recently been appointed head of acting and at her suggestion it was decided to turn the space into a theatre to give the students their own performance space in central London.
In the autumn of that year the studio was converted into a theatre with the space being designed by Hilary and Newton Jones the technical director of the Academy.
The Drayton Studio - as it was then - continued in use for the next twenty years, with twelve public performances running each year. Many of the students who presented their work here, have gone on to real achievement in Theatre, Film and Television.
The Theatre was used as a rehearsal space on and off for a few years with couple of public performances for charity in 2009.
In late 2010 it was decided to get the theatre running again, on a more permanent basis. Work was undertaken to upgrade the space and then in April 2011 the theatre licence was granted and the Drayton Arms Theatre was reopened as a professional fringe venue.
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London Pub Theatres Magazine Limited
"I could not be more excited to be bringing the Eddies back for another year here at Drayton Arms Theatre. To help new and emerging companies grow and have a chance here in London is a huge part of the aim. I am thrilled to be going to Edinburgh and look forward to finding some gems to bring back home."
100% of the ticket sales goes to the company. Potential return is likely to be in excess of £3,500 for a three week run.
Being mindful of fair pay, Drayton are insisting companies who apply must be paying a fair wage to their company members and SM/Operator, for the full run.
Apply online here no later than 15 August 2017