With London’s pubs still vanishing at an incredible speed (usually due to the fact that pubs are dream real estate; they sit on corners and have three or four floors and huge basements) the landlords are fighting back. My friend Simon is the manager of The Pineapple in Kentish Town, and has re-instated a number of old traditions associated with the pub, like day trips, readings and fancy dress competitions. Most pubs provide food of some kind, many have cabaret and my local pub has bands, Victorian music hall and ukelele nights. Now, the Cock Tavern in Kilburn is upping the game.
If you fancy seeing La Bohème in London at the moment, you have a choice. The revived 1974 staging at the Royal Opera House will set you back up to £195, or you could plump for a £5 seat in a pub. As The Guardian points out; ‘Puccini’s weepie is supposed to be a portrait of bohemian life. Half of the action takes place in a claustrophobic garret, an atmosphere that’s hard to evoke on a vast stage in the heart of moneyed Covent Garden, but a piece of cake in the confines of the Cock Tavern, a welcoming but none too upscale pub in melting-pot northwest London.’
Well, we’ve had pub theatre for many years all over the city, so why not pub opera? Is it possible to achieve the same impact in such restrictive surroundings with opera, a notoriously elaborate and expensive art form? The artistic director of the Cock Tavern Theatre, certainly thinks so. “It’s about getting opera to a new and wider audience,” he says. “It’s also about giving a start to singers who receive a world-class training, but then have to sit in the wings for the next 20 years.”
It’s this oversupply of highly trained young singers who aren’t yet physically ready for the demands of a large opera house that makes OperaUpClose such an interesting venture. OperaUpClose’s audiences can expect to be sitting within arm’s reach of some of the musical stars of tomorrow. In Bohème, for instance, the role of Mimi will be played (on alternate nights — the production is double-cast to save the singers’ voices) by the rising star Charmian Bedford, who sang the role in a production by Sam West that toured the Middle East earlier this year.
The Cock is well known for its innovative productions. Act II takes place in the pub downstairs. The 20-strong chorus members will be planted among the regular drinkers at the bar. There’s even hope that over the course of the production’s 11-week run, it could turn into a pub sing-along.