THE HOPE THEATRE (@TheHopeTheatre)
above the Hope & Anchor pub.
207 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RL
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IN A NUTSHELL
It has been said that the Hope Theatre has the ‘intimacy of a confessional’. It has a friendly atmosphere and an energy that reaches out from the moment of arrival. It has also been said that The Hope and its Artistic Director Matthew Parker proves that ‘fringe is capable of thinking big, with a commanding presence that rivals any West End stage’.
Easy to find with excellent transport links. On Islington’s trendy and eclectic Upper Street, full of restaurants, cafes and bars. The nearest station is Highbury & Islington (Victoria Line, Overground and First Capital Connect) with Angel not far away. The area is well served by buses and the routes 4, 19, 30 and 43 all run past the venue. The nearest bus stop is Islington Town Hall. For those coming by car, there is on-street parking (meters) on nearby Compton Terrace and Canonbury Lane. The theatre is outside of the Congestion Charge Zone.
Bold stories. Big ideas. These are productions that have imagination and take us somewhere else rather than kitchen sink or linear naturalism. They focus on New writing, Devised work, Re-imaginings of Jacobean or Greek texts, Musicals, Imaginative revivals of well-known plays or hidden gem from a well-known writer.
Tickets are good value, no nonsense consistently low price.
It is the only 50 seat fringe venue in London that has a commitment to paying Equity agreed rates.
Hands on development for artists.
THE WORLD FAMOUS HOPE AND ANCHOR PUB
With very contemporary décor, it is one of THE places to hang out. It’s friendly, relaxed with a lively vibe. It’s walls are decorated with posters and memorabilia reminding us that it is world famous for its live music venue in the basement, which has a huge following attracting tourists from America. It is possible to have pre-theatre dining choosing from a traditional pub food menu served till 9pm. You can eat, go to the theatre and finish the night off downstairs at the music venue.
Did you know …
The Hope and Anchor first opened its doors in 1880.
The Hope and Anchor pub is world famous for its music venue downstairs.
During the mid-1970s it was one of the first Pubs to embrace the emergent, but brief, phenomenon of pub rock. With the decline of this movement, the pub went on to become a leading venue in the punk rock movement.
Madness (The Music Video for their cover of "One Step beyond" was filmed in the Basement)
There is a Stranglers album inspired by the venue called LIVE AT THE HOPE AND ANCHOR.
Other bands that played at the Hope and Anchor music venue include, Dire Straits, The Clash, The Jam, The Pogues, The Police, The Ramones, The Stranglers, and U2.
The pub was also featured in the 1980 film, Breaking Glass.
The Hope Theatre was opened in 2013. Two major flagships were to put in place: the first, an Equity agreement and the second an experimental theatre aiming at giving a stage to new writing.
Matthew Parker was invited to take over, and has been Artistic Director of the Hope since 2014.
The Hope Theatre has transferred two productions to the West End: ‘Ushers’ to the Charing Cross Theatre and Snoo Wilson’s ‘Lovesong of The Electric Bear’ to The Arts. It was a finalist in 3 categories at the Off West End Awards 2015 for ‘Lovesong of the Electric Bear’ and has been home to many world premieres including Joe Orton’s ‘Fred and Madge’. It has also had many OFFIE nominations and is winner of two OFFIES since opening in 2013.
Matthew Parker is Artistic Director for The Hope, is also the director for an all-female version of the classic Greek tragedy ANTIGONE. Parker is also the director of award winning LOVESONG OF THE ELECTRIC BEAR (2015) which has transferred to The Arts theatre in the West End.
We are sitting in The Hope, enjoying a glass which the hospitable Parker has offered. He comes across as genuine and friendly with more than a touch of theatricality. I explain that my knowledge of The Hope extends to the fact that it started out as the ‘new writing’ arm of KINGS HEAD THEATRE. Parker kindly puts me right.
“WE AREN’T CONNECTED TO THE KING’S HEAD AT ALL NOW. WE PROGRAMME A COMBINATION OF NEW WRITING, RE-POLISHED CLASSICS AND INNOVATIVELY STAGED MUSICALS.”
I’m not sure right now that I have a very real handle on what it is that The Hope likes to programme and I wonder what would make a really good fit for The Hope?
“IT’S A VERY THEATRICAL SPACE – WHAT I MEAN BY THAT IS THAT IT SUITS PIECES THAT ARE ESSENTIALLY THEATRICAL IN THEIR NATURE. WE DON’T TEND TO PROGRAMME LINEAR NATURALISM OR KITCHEN SINK DRAMAS. IF THERE IS A SCENE WITH A SOFA … I STRUGGLE THEN AND AM UNLIKELY TO PROGRAMME IT. IT HAS TO HAVE IMAGINATION, TAKE US SOMEWHERE ELSE; ESCAPISM. WE LIKE BOLD STORIES. BIG IDEAS!”
Parker is very much hands-on, he’s not a director who says, “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? LOVELY, WELL IT’S UP THERE”. He likes to have a presence. He tries to do box office as much as he can because he likes meeting the audience. He is also passionate about the Hope “BRAND”.
“WE HAVE A CONSISTENT BRAND; SAME TEMPLATE FOR FLYERS, LOGO, SAME PROFESSIONAL QUALITY? THE HOPE IS A COMPANY AND WE ARE: ‘THE LITTLE THEATRE WITH BIG IDEAS’. IT’S ALL ABOUT QUALITY AND ENJOYMENT."
When I arrived he was standing on a chair putting up a massive poster, he explained that he wanted “THE LOGO VISIBLE SO PEOPLE CAN SEE WHEN THEY WALK PAST”. He moaned about the fact that “THE COUNCIL DON’T ALLOW ANY FREESTANDING SIGNAGE ON THE STREET”. However, the pub allows him to put flyers on the table (his next job of the day) and the local businesses take his posters. He spends time talking to local business sponsors, who in return get half page adverts in the theatre programmes. I asked him what he considers to be The Hope Theatre’s unique selling point?
“WE WERE THE FIRST 50 SEAT THEATRE TO OPEN WITH A HOUSE AGREEMENT IN PLACE WITH EQUITY, THE UK’S LARGEST PERFORMERS UNION, TO GUARANTEE A LEGAL WAGE FOR ALL PERFORMERS, STAGE MANAGERS AND BOX OFFICE STAFF. WE ARE STILL THE ONLY 50 SEAT VENUE IN LONDON WITH THIS GUARANTEE IN PLACE. WE ARE VERY PROUD OF THIS. OUR THEATRE SPACE MAY BE LITTLE BUT OUR AMBITIONS AND IDEAS ARE BIG!”
Having seen some of the productions I agree that the visit to the Hope is uniquely intimate and engaging. Some people have the notion that off West end and fringe theatre are two different things. I don’t think they are, and I ask whether he feels the same way?
“WE ARE ALL OFF WEST END IN MY VIEW. JUST LOOK AT THE DIVERSITY OF VENUES NOMINATED AND SHORTLISTED AT THIS YEAR’S OFF WEST END AWARDS, AT WHICH THE HOPE IS SHORTLISTED FOR A FANTASTIC 3 AWARDS FOR OUR FIRST IN-HOUSE PRODUCTION LOVESONG OF THE ELECTRIC BEAR.”
Sitting here in this extremely chic, contemporary bar (hard to equate this with the Victorian Exterior. it is easy to see the added value of being here in the heart of trendy Islington.
“UPPER STREET IS A HIVE OF EATERIES, BARS, GORGEOUS SHOPS AND 4 FRINGE PUB THEATRES PLUS THE ALMEIDA. WE ARE LIKE THE WEST END OF NORTH LONDON!”
Fringe theatre has much to offer, not least very reasonable ticket prices. ANTIGONE, Parker’s current production, is a bargain at £12 to £14. How can companies afford to offer theatre at this price?
“WE DO ALL WE CAN TO SUPPORT THE COMPANIES COMING TO THE HOPE AND DON’T CHARGE A WEEKLY RENTAL TO USE THE SPACE. ALL IS DEALT WITH AS A BOX OFFCE SPLIT.”
Do companies need to have producer?
“PRODUCERS OR SOMEONE HAS TO TAKE CHARGE (A DIRECTOR, OR AN ACTOR COULD BE THAT PERSON). I WILL BE AS FLEXIBLE FOR EACH COMPANY AS I CAN BE, THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS WE NEED TO MAKE HAPPEN. WE HAVE TO SELL A SHOW. PROFESSIONALLY WE ARE FRIENDLY, SLICK WITH A CLEAN THOUGHT PROCESS.”
How do you survive as a theatre? “WE JUST HAVE TO KEEP OUR COSTS AS LOW AS POSSIBLE. WE ARE VERY RELIANT ON TICKET SALES AND KIND DONATIONS VIA OUR ‘HOPE DIAMONDS’ SCHEME. A LOT OF SHOWS THAT COME IN DO GET ARTS COUNCIL FUNDING. WE ONLY JUST SURVIVE."
Where does The Hope sit in developing talent for the future of great British theatre?
“WE ARE ALL ABOUT OFFERING SPACE FOR COMPANIES TO TRY OUT BIG IDEAS AND ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT THE THEATRE MAKERS, MOVERS AND SHAKERS OF TOMORROW!”
Whose careers have The Hope already helped to develop? Who are the ones to watch?
“THREE OF THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN OUR FIRST IN HOUSE SHOW LOVESONG OF THE ELECTRIC BEAR WERE SHORTLISTED AS FINALISTS AT THIS YEAR’S PRESTIGIOUS OFF WEST END AWARDS. SET DESIGNER ZOE HURWITZ, SOUND DESIGNER PAUL FREEMAN (WHO IS SOUND DESIGNING ANTIGONE!) AND ACTOR CHRIS LEVENS.”
Furthermore, two of them went on to win the OFFIES 2016; Paul Freeman and Chris Levens. Looking at Parker’s biography I see that he has had a stellar career to date, including gaining a first class degree in Theatre Arts (Acting) from Bretton Hall, University of Leeds and being headhunted as Artistic Director of the Hope Theatre.
"I WAS ASKED TO TAKE OVER THE HOPE VERY EARLY IN MY CAREER;
I HAD ONLY BEEN A DIRECTOR FOR 6 1/2 YEARS. IT WAS A DREAM COME TRUE. ITS INCREDIBLY HARD WORK BUT BRILLIANT AND REWARDING.”
Just how hard? “ITS SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, OFTEN DAY AND NIGHT!”
Since taking over The Hope, Parker has been busy renegotiating the equity agreement and changing the programme. It is still a beacon for new writing but has broader interests.
“ITS BRILIANT WORKING IN A PUB, WONDERFUL”. He has built a great relationship with “JAMES THE LANDLORD” based on mutual trust which is palpable from the moment you walk through the door and receive such great all round vibes.
Parker often gesticulating expressively which gives me a sense of performance without the need to go upstairs and take a look at the theatre space. Nevertheless, I am invited to take a look and the company currently rehearsing in the space take a break as I admire their set. It’s a production of Macbeth. The actors are very tolerant as I comment on the high ceiling which allows designers to think linearly, so a sense of height is possible where breadth is not.
I enjoyed my visit and was left with a feeling that this small theatre was one with a big future, a powerhouse of creativity.
Matthew Parker was speaking with Heather Jeffery at The Hope and Anchor Pub.
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