One of the jewels in London’s theatrical crown is the intimate King’s Head Theatre in the borough of Islington. The back room behind the bar at the King’s Head pub, previously used for a boxing ring and pool hall, became the first pub theatre since Shakespearean times. The site has been occupied by a public house since 1543 with the current building dating back to the 1800’s.
This tiny performing venue was founded by Dan Crawford in 1970 and is the oldest operating pub theatre in the UK, winning multiple awards with numerous productions transferring to mainstream West End and Broadway stages. It has launched the careers of many notable artists, including Ben Kingsley and Alan Rickman.
A gem of a show had a limited run earlier this month, the intelligent and inventive two-hander, AND THEN THE RODEO BURNED DOWN, written and performed by the longstanding New York-based double act, Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland. Originally staged for a single week at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this ‘vaudeville thriller’ and ‘queer cowboy Waiting for Godot’ (The Scotsman) was extended after picking up rave reviews and the winning the coveted Fringe First Award, resulting in a sell-out run. The small King’s Head stage was configured in the round with a large lone star on the floor, ready for what their website described as a “thrilling hour of clowning, physical theatre and comedy as two rodeo performers trapped in a time-loop, try and figure out why anyone would want to burn down ‘the best place in the world’, as they race against time to capture the culprit and put out the metaphorical fires and save the show.”
Two rodeo clowns-or rather, one rodeo clown and his rodeo clown shadow jockey for independence in an endearing story of ambition and self-awareness, delving into the wild west and the swaggering cowboy culture, power structures and even theatre costs when you’re “pigeonholed, lassoed by life and barely getting by,” wrote Chris Wiegand in his Guardian review. “Rice and Roland have a fantastic rapport and are equally captivating in a series of cleverly constructed, perspective- shifting encounters. They also step out of character to reflect on their own yarn and the obstacles faced by artists of minimal means-the rodeo suggesting a gilded showbiz arena not all can enter,” he said.
“From the moment the lights come up, as Dolly Parton’s ‘9-5’ starts, the audience is along for a devastating, heartwarming and surprising ride,” said ‘The Skinny’s’ critic, Rho Chung.
“Angelo Sagnelli’s inventive lighting adds a nice texture… the company of three have accomplished a truly unique piece of theatre.”
The King’s Head theatre staff kindly allowed me to slip behind the bar and into ‘the ring’, where Chloe and Natasha were warming up for their evening performance near the end of their run in early February. We had an very enjoyable chat while they signed my sketch.