Alice Jones' Art Diary

King's Head opens new theatre in Islington promising to pay minimum wage

The venue will run in a function room above The Hope and Anchor

Next week the curtain rises on a new theatre in London. The Hope Theatre will open in a function room above The Hope and Anchor pub on Upper Street in Islington, best known for staging rock gigs in its basement.

The venue will be run by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, artistic director of The King’s Head Theatre, on the same street. Having used the room as a rehearsal space for the past two years, he has persuaded the brewery, Greene King, to rent it out as a second space, for free. The 50-seater will be devoted to new writing, opening with Sandpits Avenue and The League of St George on Wednesday. Ushers, a musical about front-of-house staff and a verbatim piece about Sochi 2014 will follow. Companies will not have to pay to perform there but will have to sign an agreement to pay all those involved in their production the minimum wage and will take a split at the box-office.

It will take the fringe back to its non-commercial roots, says Spreadbury-Maher. “It’s an experimental space. I’ve shown so many directors the room and they’ve said, ‘Where’s the stage?’ I say, ‘You tell me.’ We’ve no money so audiences need to be ready. Don’t come expecting all the lush comforts of the theatre.”

Fawlty from the start

In May 1974, a script editor called Ian Main sent a rather sniffy memo to BBC Television’s Head of Comedy and Light Entertainment. It contained his assessment of a submission from John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth. “I’m afraid I thought this one as dire as its title”, typed Main. “A collection of clichés and stock characters which I can’t see being anything but a disaster.” That dire title was of course Fawlty Towers and Main’s advice was thankfully ignored.

The memo is published in Letters of Note, a new collection of correspondence between the rich and famous, published by Canongate this month. Among the letters are Mick Jagger’s brief to Andy Warhol for the design of Sticky Fingers, a love note from Zelda to F Scott Fitzgerald and an enquiry from the man who killed John Lennon, Mark Chapman to a memorabilia expert asking how much he thought his signed copy of Lennon’s Double Fantasy might be worth. “I have often wanted to write a dealer… concerning this but haven’t”, he wrote from his cell in Attica Correctional Facility, New York. “I’m somewhat of a recluse.”

Trip down memory lane

In The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon like to bicker over who is the more famous and popular comic actor. So there is a delicious irony to the revelation that the inspiration for Coogan’s acclaimed new film, Philomena, retired nurse Philomena Lee, mistook Coogan for Brydon when she was first introduced to him. “I didn’t know much about him, I don’t really follow comedians”, recalls Lee. “In fact, I’d got him mixed up with Rob Brydon”.

How does Coogan feel about that, I wonder? “I don’t think she knew who I was”, he tells me. “She may well have thought I was Rob Brydon. It has happened to me before in supermarkets, and what have you. Because he’s ubiquitous and I have a certain amount of… Well, I’m a little more choosy than Rob.” Touche, Steve.

Foot fetish

It’s the big question. Does Quentin Tarantino have a foot fetish? He does like a lingering shoe shot. “I’m not shying away from that”, the director tells arts website The Talks. “If you think about the directors that have been accused of being foot-crazy, it would have been Alfred Hitchcock… Buñuel, Samuel Fuller – it’s pretty good company. But I think legs and ass get pretty much equal time in my movies.” Glad that’s sorted.

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