King’s Head theatre on search for ‘guardian angel’ philanthropist to secure long-term future

Owner looking for investor with ‘deep pockets’ to step in

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The Independent Culture

It was the first pub theatre to open in the capital since the days of William Shakespeare, providing Hugh Grant with an early break and supporting the work of French and Saunders.

Now the King’s Head Theatre in north London is on the search for a “guardian angel” philanthropist to invest, or even buy it, to secure the long-term future of one of London’s most famous fringe venues.

Stephanie Sinclaire, who has run the Islington venue since the death of her husband, Dan Crawford, eight years ago, is understood to be in “serious” talks with one potential partner from the theatre world.

There “have been discussions over a sale” of the pub theatre, she confirmed to The Independent, but the talks have failed to reach an advanced stage. Ms Sinclaire is keen to remain involved and welcomes potential partners looking to get involved.

There had been worries in the theatre community that one of London’s best-loved fringe venues was under threat of being redeveloped into luxury flats. But Ms Sinclaire said: “If I had wanted to do that, it would have been long ago sold. That could be done in a snap of the fingers.”

While the venue is comparatively small, it boasts a rich history. Dan Crawford took it over in 1970 and founded the theatre in a room that had been a boxing ring and pool hall. Actors including Clive Owen, Ben Kingsley and Gary Oldman have performed there.

The theatre’s patrons include Joanna Lumley, Sir Tom Stoppard and lyricist Don Black. Maureen Lipman and Victoria Wood are life presidents.

Ms Sinclaire said: “There has been an on-going search for a guardian angel for this well-loved venue, or a partner. There’s potential for a philanthropist stepping in who just loves theatre. And a board could be put together to look after everything with me on it.”

She said the King’s Head was an “extraordinary venue” and her passion for it remained undimmed. “But I’m going to be 60 soon and one has to think about things. Part of me is bereft about the idea of letting it go. The perfect solution would be a collaboration.”

The plan would be to use additional investment to expand the 110-seat theatre by another 100 seats, making it a “viable commercial space”.

“About 200 seats is the magic number for a theatre to break even,” she said. “It would be a huge boon to the place.” More funds would also allow the theatre to put in a structure to act as a rehearsal, fundraising and community space.

Ms Sinclaire said: “To operate without a grant will always be challenging. Currently, lots of fundraising has to go on. It’s very challenging running a small theatre and even selling out every show doesn’t create a very healthy bank balance for future productions.

“I’m dedicated to the theatre,” she said, adding: “I’m dedicated to keeping the memory of my late husband alive. Those are my only criteria.”

Ms Sinclaire said the play programme was still shaped by her late husband’s legacy. “Dan was a great champion of British writers when the flagship venues were looking abroad.”

The building is Victorian but a tavern has stood on the site since Shakespearean times. Anyone interested in taking it over would be buying the pub and theatre together. Ms Sinclaire said: “I hope someone with deep pockets may step in.”