THEATRE N16 (@TheatreN16)
Second floor of The Bedford Pub
77 Bedford Hill, Balham, SW12 9HD
IN A NUTSHELL
Established at The Bedford pub in 2015 it is already moving and shaking British theatre from grass roots level. What you see here is the theatre of tomorrow. This is the place to see emerging writers, actors, directors, and companies all in the safe hands of rising superstar Artistic Director Jamie Eastlake and his team of theatre experts.
Not on the beaten path, but this arts hub is a full day’s visit so it’s a must do excursion. Easy transport links.
By Car: Sainsburys car park just opposite and there are plenty of pay and display bays along Fernlea Road from Monday to Saturday until 5.30pm, after which parking is free. (Fernlea road is one way, offering no access from Bedford Hill. Instead, turn into Rossiter Road and then the first right, bringing you into Fernlea Road.)
Underground: Northern Line
Overground: South West Trains are available to Balham station with frequent service to Victoria, Clapham Junction, Gatwick and Croydon.
Bus: 155, 249, 315, 355
Night Bus: N155
With its eclectic programming you will see everything from devised work to new writing and also established work. Whilst much of it is cutting edge and experimental, you will also see current plays that have already had huge critical acclaim. The in-house productions favour political theatre with contemporary clout.
Tickets are good value, no nonsense consistently low price.
A commitment to paying Equity agreed rates.
Hands on development for artists.
Affordable hire charges for rehearsal space (3 studios).
No hire fee for visiting theatre companies (box office split).
THE BEDFORD PUB
Set over three floors, it is a truly spectacular venue. It has the feel of a traditional pub with a big open fire. Already home to the Banana comedy club as well as the London Folk fest, the Bedford is South West London's number one building for live entertainment.
On the ground floor you will find a restaurant with an exotic menu including spicy food. Also on this floor is ‘Shakespeare’s globe’; a round room with excellent acoustics for music night. On the first floor you will find rehearsal rooms which are also used for conferences and fitness/dance classes. The theatre and their offices are nestled comfortably on the top floor.
Eastlake directed YOUR EVER LOVING (April 2016). Written by journalist Martin McNamara, it’s about the Guildford Four and goes back to a miscarriage of justice in the 1970s. So how does Eastlake relate to this?
“I’m drawn to stories about people who have a fight and don’t come from privilege, the working class man. I come from a small town mentality; everyone fights for each other. This is real community. My Grandfather worked on the Shipyards, real tough hard man, the things he used to tell me. He used to use his fists to talk a lot, stand up for himself and I’m kind of doing it in the medium of theatre. My grandad was a lovely wonderful man; he’d just stand up for himself. In those days you would just punch someone because there was no other way to express … “
He trails off and we have a conversation about what’s replaced the fist fight when there aren’t the words to express yourself. We agree it’s the swear word.
“I’ve sworn a lot since opening a theatre … it’s just frustration.”
I want to get to the bottom of this and I’m surprised by his candid responses.
“Having no money (in the theatre). We survive day by day. We don’t have any funding. I don’t have a bank account in Jersey. (Our technical manager does, but he’s actually from Jersey so there’s some reasonable explanation for that.)”
How did it all come about that you’re an Artistic Director, moving and shaping the future of British theatre?
“I don’t know, it terrifies me, that. Two years ago I was sitting in my little flat in a mining town in the north East. I just produced from a very young age, I ran a theatre company from nine years of age. It was the only real sort of theatrical entertainment at the school I went. It was us.”
We’re sitting comfortably in his large office. I have been given a desk of my own for my pc and a bottle of water. Jamie sits close by.
“The first play I did at school; I was nine years old. I used to go home and produce films, and go to school and produce theatre. So I did that through the whole time I was at school. I stayed on to do A levels and dropped them all. I flunked them all, but they kept me on, because I was producing theatre. They thought ‘I don’t have to pay for a theatre department’"
There follows a little discussion about ‘Creative Partnerships’ which brought theatre into schools. The funding was slashed so they stopped coming.
“Creative Partnerships were massive in helping me at the start. When I was 13 some theatre practitioners came in. We produced a show together with students. We rented The Sage, a massive venue on the Tyne. We produced an adaptation of Ben’s Johnson’s the Alchemist. It made me realise I’d done this sort of stuff all my life, but this was just ..."
Eastlake trails off again and instead describes his feelings physically. This circle he makes with his hands shows a big shift towards something momentous in his life.
“ … and then the funding just stopped … It says something when funding stops and they keep in some failed A level kid just to keep up the moral … It was a revelation seeing how theatre could be different to what it was in my head at that time … I was seeing local am dram your grandmother might have seen. Rodgers & Hammerstein, My Fair Lady, panto at Christmas.”
Eastlake studied distance learning with Rose Bruford but despite being on their website as an alumni success he didn’t ever complete the course.
“The course was brilliant, really really good. You didn’t get student finance so you had to pay it yourself.”
This led to Eastlake taking on some awful jobs.
“I can tell the stories of the common man because I’ve been there. Walking to work, at 6 am minus 4 degrees, because there are no buses. Checking every single item in Asda fridges for their sell by date for three or four hours and all on minimum wage.”
There were other ghastly jobs, too numerous to mention. Is it all about class?
“I’m also privileged. Background is definitely not irrelevant but we have an advantage over other people. There’s a lot worse things in the world than people not being about to get a good acting career together. Funding, accessibility to theatre, grass roots level, is definitely easier to get into if you come from a more privileged background. I was working 60 hours a week just to survive."
London is so expensive but Eastlake believes you have to be in London to make your way in the business.
DID YOU KNOW …
The Bedford was originally a hotel. Developed in the 1830's, The Bedford became a central community hub for Balham. In the late sixties and seventies it was a spit and sawdust live music venue and launched bands on their careers, including The Clash and U2.
It was also famously used as the courtroom for the unsolved murder case of Charles Bravo, upstairs, in what was then the billiard hall.
The pub has won several awards over the years including the Evening Standard's Pub of the Year and The Publican's Music Pub of the Year in 2002.
Theatre N16 first opened above the White Hart pub in Stoke Newington in May 2015 for a season of new exciting work. In September 2015 it transferred to the upper floor of the Bedford Pub in Balham SW1 and now has a permanent home there.
It's aim is to encourage the next generation of new work. The small team is made up of individuals with experience in producing, writing, directing, arts management, and design. They are on hand to assist with all elements of a production. Whether that's marketing, PR, production management, actors’ agreements.
DRAFT is a development opportunity for writers to showcase new ideas and encouraging collaboration between emerging artists. Readers will complete a feedback form for every play read.
FIRST CREDIT is a scheme put together by Theatre N16 to allow recent graduates (four actors and a director) to take their first steps into the industry by being hired for their first professional credit. Details of both are on the website.
They also have casting for in house productions twice a year and are very proud to be able to offer agreed equity payment.
Eastlake is keen to help emerging theatre professionals onto the first rung with DRAFT. The literary manager is in charge of choosing plays and directors.
“If a theatre company comes in here with a good idea, we give the space for free. We do our best to keep their overheads down and we’ll help their cash flow. If the idea or script is solid, if we feel like, yeah, this is something we want to do. I believe if a company or producer has got an idea, just if they put all their cards on the table."
He pauses before explaining.
“That’s what I like, if they’re honest. If they say they haven’t got the money well, we try to help them. Or if they haven’t got the experience. It’s always about being very open and being experimental. A couple of times you get false hope from people. They have plans and their plans don’t come to the forefront and because of our deal, we lose out. We’ve got rent to pay, staff to pay and insurance.”
Theatre N16 does have several remarkable advantages. They have some massive rehearsal spaces which are available to hire at very reasonable rates. It’s something that they hope will start to work for them but at the present time money is tight.
“It’s tough, we’ve been here nearly 6 months, but every theatre staff member is paid, every theatre has walked out with money (we don’t have any volunteers). This is my job, my sole income now, I can survive on it. I can throw everything into it. I have sleepless nights thinking about cash flow.”
He quips “£10k in bank as leverage would be lovely.”
I imagine the rest is quite fun. Eastlake has slowed down quite a lot now as he explains wearily …
“It’s 50 percent looking at spread sheets, 40 percent moving furniture, 5 percent managing egos and 5 percent doing theatre. That’s it, that sums it up. It’s better than going through every single product at the chillers at Asda”.
Eastlake seems to be struggling not to yawn and I’m wondering if I’m boring him, but then I remember his tender age and how hard he has been working. He must be knackered!
Eastlake is on site all the time, trying to be involved in the process for all the visiting companies as much as possible (including moving pieces of set). Jamie adds “at the end of the day it’s their product”. Nevertheless, if any company fails to attract an audience it’s the theatre that would take the hit.
People of all ages come here depending on the productions which range from new writing/experimental theatre to award winning plays with full set and experienced theatre makers. Local businesses get involved and some restaurants offer reductions on pre-theatre dining. The pub gets a lot more custom through the theatre, so as Eastlake puts it, “we’re trying to bed, nestle ourselves into the Bedford’s little nest”.
Theatre N16 is revamping fringe theatre at The Bedford with plans to expand activities to more of an arts hub. Will TheatreN16 still be interested in the controversial, political?
“Every good piece of theatre is political in a sense. I like to do stuff which sticks its middle finger up to things I don’t agree with, but like programming work that is just across the boards. We’ve got gender blind Shakespeare in a couple of weeks’ time and Your Ever Loving.”
Finally, how does Eastlake see Theatre N16 developing?
“Within three years, I’d like it be on a bigger scale, producing a lot more. My aim is to be doing 75 percent theatre. Sublet rooms for rehearsals. Taming that madness. My dream is to own a building”
For the time being Eastlake is content to develop this theatre. He paints the picture.
“A massive hub, three rehearsals going on, someone in the theatre space, we have a coffee together. I want to create much more of that community. We’re above a pub, isn’t that the place …? This venue could run as a bigger arts venue: Interactions between art forms Installations, photography exhibitions everything”.
Jamie Eastlake was speaking with Heather Jeffery (editor of LPT magazine)
Copyright: LONDON PUB THEATRES MAGAZINE LIMITED