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ROSIE MILLARD: WHY ISLINGTON THEATRE TRUMPS THE WEST END

Angel Resident columnist Rosie Millard gets candid about why she thinks Islington upstages the West End with its outstanding theatre offering (minus eye-watering ticket prices!)

Hamilton may be great, but it is one hell of a pricey show. And if you want to extend it into a family trip, we are talking many hundreds of pounds.

It’s not just Broadway transfers that are chokingly expensive these days. Many West End shows are currently asking around £80 for a decent seat. Which is bearable if you are guaranteed a wondrous experience (The Book Of Mormon, School of Rock), but not so good if the show turns out to be a turkey (Leonardo, A Musical Of Love, Quasimodo). Furthermore, there are no guarantees that you won’t shell out only to sit beside a person with a) a compulsive texting habit or b) a pantechnicon of cheese and onion crisps.

So what’s to be done if you love showbiz, but can’t quite cope with the eye watering prices of the West End? Angel Resident has the answer: local theatre. More precisely, local theatre above a pub, as researched by your columnist and sometime theatre critic. Pub theatres are my favourite thing as they are cheap, local and can deliver amazing quality.

Over the recent hols I took the Junior Millards to Anything Goes, which was playing Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate. Now, Cole Porter’s masterpiece is not an easy thing to deliver. It has a score that everyone knows. It requires a live band. It requires industrial quantities of tap dancing. It requires charm and timing and the ability to spoof not only the Mafia but also posh English gentlemen, as well as the ability to deliver lines such as ‘You’re the steppes of Russia, You’re the pants on a Roxy usher,’ in tune and with conviction.

Charles Court Opera, which produced it, may not have even a tenth of the production muscle of the Royal Opera House, but in terms of skill and theatrical brilliance, this was up there with Covent Garden

Well, Upstairs at the Gatehouse did all this and more. In this tiny theatre we were transported to a 1930s cruise liner with panache and brilliance. Indeed, from the first strains of the overture I was never in any doubt that we were in for a fabulous evening that gave me the chance to share one of the most showstopping pieces of Western culture with my children.

It was the same with Guys and Dolls a few years back; indeed, if you like your classic American musicals, put Upstairs at the Gatehouse on your speed dial.

The sneaky thing is that pub theatre will allow you and your loved ones to experience a large chunk of the theatre and opera canon at a fraction of the price charged by productions in central London. Indeed, the West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong actually started in an Islington pub (The Old Red Lion, to be precise).

I’ve taken my kids to a huge variety of opera and musical theatre via this crafty scheme, most of it courtesy of the peerless King’s Head on Upper Street. In this tiny auditorium we have worked our way through swathes of Mozart and Rossini operas by way of Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and, er, Disney.

Frankly, in terms of Christmas shows, Pinocchio at the King’s Head knocked the spots off pricier pantos. Charles Court Opera, which produced it, may not have even a tenth of the production muscle of the Royal Opera House, but in terms of skill and theatrical brilliance, this was up there with Covent Garden.

Hilariously funny, boundlessly inventive and quite simply madcap, Pinocchio made my four children, aged from 12 to 19, weep with laughter. The company is putting on The Magic Flute this May in Upper Street. I’m definitely going along, why don’t you?


 

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