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Trainspotting at The King's Head

Interview with King’s Head Theatre Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher

19 July 2016 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Adam Spreadbury-Maher is the multi-awarding-winning artistic director of the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. London Calling sat down with him to talk about his immersive theatre adaptation of Trainspotting, queer theatre, and their upcoming Festival 46.

London Calling: The King’s Head Theatre has a vibrant history. Can you give us a quick rundown?
 
Adam Spreadbury-Maher: It’s the first pub theatre since Shakespeare’s time, founded in 1970. There’s been over fifty Broadway and West-End transfers to the credit of the company. We were the first unfunded pub theatre to introduce an equity agreement to unionise a consistent pay for actors and stage managers in 2011. We receive work from some of the world’s biggest theatre festivals, and we’re about to embark on an international tour of Trainspotting
 
LC: What was the decision behind creating an entirely immersive experience for the audience in your adaptation of Trainspotting?
 
ASM: The company In Your Face Theatre that Greg Esplin and I directed were interested in exploring immersive work by way of engaging an audience in a non-traditional way. In this production the audience are critical to the performance. The performance can’t happen without them because the audience literally play characters in the show.
 
LC: How does that work?
 
ASM: There might be a reference to a character so we find someone in the audience to become them, they might become a piece of furniture, or they might have a used condom pulled out of a shitty toilet thrown in their face. It’s a no holds barred production but I think people expect that when they come to see an immersive production of Trainspotting with Scotland’s worst toilet. The production challenges the audience to re-enter their real lives with less of a filter.
 
LC: The King’s Head has a long legacy of programming queer theatre. Is it the case that you are one of the only London theatres to give a sustained platform to this community?
 
ASM: There’s a lot of great queer work going on in London at venues like the Park Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Arcola, the Tricycle. However we commit to giving around 30% of our programme to queer work, whereas it might be an anomaly elsewhere. The work we present here is very specific. It’s about what is in the zeitgeist right now? What is nobody else talking about?
 
LC: Plays in your repertoire like 5 Guys Chillin’ and Fucking Men are explicit, graphic and sexual. Is there a particular allure for audiences to experience the portrayal of gay sex on stage?
 
ASM: I like pushing the boundaries of what people think they can see on the stage. The work we’ve done recently with 5 Guys Chillin’ and Fucking Men navigates through rigorous drama which is robust and high quality, but is accepting of our bodies.
 
Programming these types of plays is us saying please can we talk about the biggest health epidemic to hit this section of the community ever? More people are being diagnosed with HIV in 2015 than any other year ever. It’s more widespread than in the 80’s. It’s a life long disease that is completely unnecessary to contract, it has associated mental illnesses and is a drain on the public health service that could use the funding for illnesses that can’t be avoided like cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s.
 
LC: You’re opening your doors to twenty different shows for two weeks in July. What’s the idea behind Festival 46?
 
ASM: There are some wonderful theatres in London you can’t work at unless you are at a certain point in your career as a theatre-maker. It might be to do with how famous you are, who your parents and friends are, which school you went to. I see the King’s Head’s position as filling in as much and as broad a gap as possible from end to end process. Starting with Without Décor, which is our Saturday afternoon new writing initiative, finishing with us transferring and touring work internationally with shows like Trainspotting and Fucking Men. Festival 46 fits within that remit of ‘how can we work with great new writing in a way that is going to promote and present it to an active and interested audience but not prevent the theatre-makers from making future work, ie. not bankrupting them?’
 
LC: You’ve got comedy, theatre and musicals programmed for Festival 46. Can you give us a taster of some of the shows on offer?
 
ASM: Freud The Musical is going to be fantastic. We have a 91-year-old stage actress who is doing her one woman show That’s Entertainment with Thelma Ruby. There are our four King’s Head graduating trainee directors who are all going to have shows on including Turf, Phoebe, The Soul of Wittgenstein and A Haunting. There’s an exciting new version of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho in a game show format. There’s Noel Coward and Friends Live in Las Vegas, which is a transfer from the Edinburgh festival last year. And that’s only eight of them!
 
 
With twenty shows in two weeks Festival 46 at the King’s Head Theatre runs 18 – 31 July.
 
Trainspotting plays at the Edinburgh Fringe 3 – 29 August, then transfers to the Tobacco Factory in Bristol 1-18 September.
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