Features Published 16 June 2015

Not Too Tame: Pub Life

Jimmy Fairhurst, Artistic Director of Not Too Tame, on working class stories, the beauty of the UK's pub culture, and the need to make 'theatre for all.'
Jimmy Fairhurst

31 pubs and social clubs close a week in Britain. Last year, British theatre saw drastic cuts to the majority of subsidised arts organisations, with some receiving lethal 100% cuts. Both pubs and theatres are suffering from lack of support at present, with some dangerous individuals even suggesting that theatre should have no government funding whatsoever.

Our show, Early Doors, is intended to be a celebration of community and British public house traditions. We perform it in real pubs or social clubs in towns and cities across the UK, partnering with an associated theatre or festival. At the start of the piece it should be difficult to tell who is real, who’s a performer and who is in the audience, as the actors ‘bounce’ the door, serve at the bar, and share a drink and a laugh with other locals.

Part of Not Too Tame’s mission statement is to create a ‘theatre for all’, focusing specifically on creating work that breaks boundaries, which isn’t timid or polite, and which engages those who feel that theatre isn’t a place where they belong. As a young man from a working class background, growing up in the North West of England, I always felt that theatre wasn’t meant for me; as an actor, but more so as an audience member.

Early Doors is designed to bring people together, from all backgrounds, whilst boosting local business. These beautiful local ‘boozers’ – the beating hearts of every community, where people go to celebrate and mourn life’s events – do not have the footfall they once had and theatres too are struggling to fill seats. What Early Doors we hope to create a conversation between the two, to fill these spaces with  people, many of whom have never been in there before. These audiences get to experience the pub’s atmosphere and potential, whilst the bars enjoy the benefit of fuller tills. From the theatre’s perspective, we hope to increase the number of attendees by changing the perceptions of people who would not normally engage with the arts in this way. A cross pollination of audience is the key to helping maintaining Britain’s best loved social hubs.

To date we have played an array of beautiful pubs and social clubs including the gas lit Hale’s Bar in Harrogate. Apart from issues surrounding sight lines which can make or break a possible venue choice for us, the pub space becomes a kind of playground for the acting company. We have a very short time to get under the skin of this new building and learn its nooks and crannies and make it home for the duration of the production.  Each space has it’s own problems and benefits. The cosy ‘Jinglin’ Geordie in Edinburgh (one of George Best’s favourite boozers) could only fit around 50 in, where as the Burtonwood Catholic Club in Warrington was a huge 120 seated room and we had to really ‘give it some’ in terms of vocals and physicality.

The other thing that greatly impacts upon Early Doors is the audience. Each night we have new interactions, new characters and new heckles to deal with. There is no better test of our actors then when we have to deal with raucous audiences who are up for a good night out. However, the real beauty of these spaces is how similar they are to the great playhouses, like the Old Vic, stories, sweat and tears have seeped into the walls and you know that you are in a place where generations of people have come to love, laugh, cry and celebrate together. It is these human stories we are trying to capture.

A lot of working class stories are not being told. And even if they are, more often than not there is a misrepresentation, where middle class attitudes and solutions are applied to working class problems. When I decided to start Not Too Tame, the main focus was making sure that the work spoke to its community; that the voices creating the work were real and easy to relate to.

One out of three of our Edinburgh audiences had ‘never or rarely’ been to the theatre. This, coupled with the fact that they thoroughly enjoyed the show, was an amazing result for us. Audience members told us they ‘didn’t know what to expect’ but were blown away by it. Sometimes theatre makers forget who we’re actually making the work for. Not Too Tame’s audiences are always at the heart of what we do.  For everyone money is tight at the moment, but we all have to be able to enjoy ourselves to help get us through life.

Not Too Tame’s Early Doors is touring pubs across the UK until 25th July 2015.

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