Since 2008, Above The Stag theatre company, London’s only permanent gay producing company has been housed in a cosy, well-equipped and comfortable space above The Stag pub in Victoria. From opening night on October 28th, Artistic Director Peter Bull has programmed an ambitious range of gay themed and gay interest work. The ATS story is one of astonishing success, critical acclaim, and not a few sequins. Transforming a bare, unused function room above a pub, Peter Bull has developed the space into a working theatre, programming throughout the year, and has seen audiences increase dramatically from 30% to 89%. Recently ATS enjoyed 20 consecutive sell-out weeks, a feat made even more remarkable when, as the Low Pay, No Pay debate rages on throughout London’s fringe, Peter has always maintained a salaried stage manager and paid his actors a weekly stipend, and share of profits. The small space has given way to some inventive, lavish sets, and some surprisingly large casts – and large costumes!
Now, as a result of the development works around Victoria, The Stag pub is set to be demolished, and ATS will lose its permanent home.
Highlights of the three years at the theatre have included;
- – Adaptations of Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Launderette and EM Forster’s Maurice, the latter being so popular it returned for a second season.
- – Silence! The Musical (now running on off-Broadway)
- – American drama and comedy including The Irish Curse directed by visiting American Director David Zak; Busted Jesus Comix (about a real-life teenager sentenced to three years probabtion for writing an “obscene” comic); and its current production Sleeping With Straight Men
- – A popular annual review, “Blink!” which showcased songs from musicals that flopped
- – Hosting two runs of the hit comedy My Big Gay Italian Wedding.
- – Pantomimes, including most recently Sleeping Beauty – One Little Prick ( pictured) which played 39 sell-out performances
ATS has also hosted a number of rehearsed readings for playwrights to try out new writing with professional actors, and in its short life has built up a loyal audience following, while achieving the near impossible among actors – a sense of family and community shared by all who have worked there. Actors who have performed at the now prestigious venue have gone on to tour the UK in hit shows, star in West End musicals and plays, and appear on TV. Time and again those actors have returned, often donating their services for free, to perform at the venue’s glittering birthday parties, or simply to support the venue and Peter.
Paul Vale, Theatre Critic and Features writer for The Stage, has written movingly on his personal blog about the venue, a mark of how much support ATS has within the industry, Tim McArthur, Resident Director, contacted all creatives who have worked in the space to inform them of the sad news, and Peter Bull has launched a Moving On fundraising campaign, saying “We are looking for donations to our ATS ‘Moving On Fund’ to help us relocate and cover the costs of interim storage. We have built something of a family at Above The Stag and that includes our enthusiastic audience. What we have achieved over the past 3 years is too valuable to lose, but we need all the help we can get to make sure we find a new home. We are commited to continuing Above The Stag’s success, and we therefore urgently need a new home. We would love to hear from property developers, pubs with unused function spaces, or any other property owner who would welcome a resident theatre. We bring a well respected programme, up to date sound and lighting equipment, and a loyal audience. The Stag Pub’s bar takings over Christmas were up 27% thanks to our panto.”
ATS will bid its final farewell to The Stag on Thursday March 8th between 6.30 and 9pm at The Stag pub in Victoria, inviting supporters to drop in for a drink, some entertainment and, no doubt, a touch of glamour.