There are countless things to do in Islington, from museums to cinemas, but we here at Unbranded like the local ambiance of places such as the Old Red Lion. Whether you like to have a pint or watch some of the best fringe theatre in London, this is the place for you.
The pub is one of the oldest in London, with records referring to the “Redde Lyon” as early as 1415. Over the years, the building has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times, and the upstairs boxing ring was transformed into a black box theatre space in 1979.
The pub is and has always been the favoured watering hole of countless celebrities throughout its history, from Lenin to George Orwell to the cast of HBO’s Game of Thrones! Its warm, brightly lit main room is a welcome respite from the cold gloom of early February afternoons, with a screen and projector to watch the Six Nations on.
At the back of the room, past the regulars and rugby enthusiasts, sits the box office for the Old Red Lion’s Theatre. The small set of stairs behind is lined with posters of past productions, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Miller’s No Villain. The theatre itself is a black box, meaning a small, unadorned space with black walls. The actors are the focus in this establishment, not the scenery.
The theatre’s current production is Harriet Madeley’s The Listening Room, an “exploration of life, death and justice” featuring the stories of five people whose lives were transformed by a violent crime, and who all accepted to meet the people “on the other side” of each incident; be they victim or perpetrator. The play is heart-wrenching, rife as it is with stirring testimonies to the senselessness of certain crimes: a mother’s grief at her son’s death, a young man’s incomprehension at the horror he has committed.
What makes it especially moving is the fact that the actors do not know which of the five people they will be portraying on any given day. Each has headphones on, in which they hear recordings of their “character’s” interviews with the playwright. They repeat, live, what they hear the instant before.
The immediacy of their emotions, as they react in much the same way and at the same time the public does, highlights the actor’s role as a mere conduit. This play is a great testimony to the resilience of people, and despite its grim context, uplifts rather than depresses, leaving one ready to head back down to the pub and back out into the February fog.
The Listening Room is on until the 4th of March, on Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm and on Saturdays at 2.30pm. Tickets are £15 or £12.50 for concessions.
The Old Red Lion is at 418, St. John Street, EC1V 4NJ. More info at www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk.