The Pub Sing-Song Returns


The Cock Tavern
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.

4 comments on “The Pub Sing-Song Returns”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    The list of “must-do” things has just had an addition. Small venue theatre is a special sort of experience for the performers as well as the audience. I sighed aloud when my favourite character died and the actress found me at the end to ask why I had been so disappointed by her death. Only possible with a very small audience – and my reaction would have been lost in a bigger venue.

  2. Steve says:

    One small venue years ago included a scene where all the actors (about ten of them as I recall)came out and handed apples to every audience member. They did it in such a way that no one was loath to accept – and eat – what was given. The actors returned to the stage, continued to perform for about five minutes – and then they all clutched their throats and stomachs and appeared to die in extreme agony.
    They had eaten the apples too.


  3. Shuku says:

    Oh what a -lovely- idea. And yes Helen! I absolutely agree that small venue theatre is something special. It’s more of a challenge performing in a lot of ways, everything is so up close. We had a small blackbox theatre in university, and performing ‘Waiting for Godot’ in that space was an -experience-. As was ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (eating 13 sugar cubes consecutively while waiting to change sets is something not easily forgotten). It would have been grander in a larger space, but the immediacy and intimacy would certainly have been lost.

    Hurrah for innovative performance venues!

    (I love the apple story by the way, Steve.)

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