King's Head Theatre in June 2011
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The King's Head Theatre, founded in 1970 by Dan Crawford, is an off-West End venue in London. It is the second oldest operating pub theatre in the UK. In March 2010 Adam Spreadbury-Maher became Artistic Director and the theatre became home to resident company OperaUpClose for 4 years.
The small theatre is located in the back room behind the bar at the King's Head pub on Upper Street, in the London Borough of Islington. The theatre is housed in a Victorian building, but a public house, originally known as The King's Head Tavern, has been on the same site, opposite the parish church, since 1543. The theatre's reconstruction in 2007–2008 increased both the stage size and seating capacity, with the addition of new seating.
Dan Crawford ran the venue until his death in 2005. His wife and long-serving associate artistic director Stephanie Sinclaire took over with help from those who had worked with Crawford. She mounted 20 galas in the first year at the theatre with the help of Caroline Smith and longtime supporters such as Maureen Lipman, Sir John Mortimer, Linda Marlowe, Sharon D Clarke, Clive Rowe, Janie Dee and others and pulled the theatre out of debt. In 2007, Sinclaire was joined by the Tony-Award winning New York producer, Steven M. Levy, who has been serving as the company's Executive Producer. Levy and Sinclaire got the theatre producing for a year and presented several musical and play premieres.
The atmosphere Crawford created in 1970 was intended to be enjoyed by an interesting, cosmopolitan and cultural audience, but noise complaints have limited the music from its previous 7 nights a week. Crawford disagreed with the introduction of decimal currency; for over twenty years after decimalisation of the pound (1971), the bar continued to show prices and charge for drinks in pre-decimal currency. However, the current management decided to introduce computerised tills, while keeping the antique till as the main focal point in the pub.
The King's Head has presented a wide array of productions: musicals, stand-up comedy, revues, contemporary forgotten classics, and new work by both new and established playwrights. Under the Crawfords' leadership The King’s Head has won multiple awards and numerous productions have transferred to mainstream West End and Broadway theatres. In the five years after his death, notable productions include the world stage premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan, directed by Stephanie Sinclaire, which transferred to the Lobero Theatre in California. Fucking Men also ran at the theatre for nine months in the late night slot as well as the main time slot before Steven Levy transferred it to The Arts Theatre.
A documentary about the theatre, The King's Head: A Maverick in London (2006) was produced by Dragonfly Films and Xi Pictures and co-directed by Stephanie Sinclaire and Jason Figgis. It ran on Sky ARTSWorld for three years.
In March 2010, Adam Spreadbury-Maher was appointed Artistic Director. In October 2010, it was announced that the theatre would become "London's Little Opera House", the first new opera house in London for over 40 years. The first opera performed was an adaption of Rossini's Barber of Seville (or Salisbury) set in the times of Jane Austen. Also in October 2010, Mark Ravenhill became associate director, and Jonathan Miller joined existing patrons Joanna Lumley, Janie Dee, Tom Stoppard and Alan Parker.
Recent highlights of producing work include:
In 2017, the King's Head Theatre won the Off West End award for Tosca, and in 2018 was nominated for the Olivier Award for Best New Opera for their production of La bohème.
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