Curtain raised on new Finsbury theatre

ONE of Islington’s longest running theatres raised the curtain on its new venue this week.

The aptly named New Red Lion, in City Road, Finsbury, opened its doors for the first time last Friday after a frenzied few months for its young team, led by creative director Henry Filloux-Bennett.

The new pub and playhouse, which has taken over a site formerly occupied by the sports bar Offside, is an offshoot of the historic Old Red Lion, in nearby St John Street, which has hosted fringe theatre since the 1970s.

Mr Filloux-Bennett, 27, creative director of the Red Lion group, said: “This is a completely new type of venue that doesn’t really exist in London, let alone Islington. We’re going to be changing constantly.”

Producer Nick Thompson, 26, added: “The whole set up of the place and even the food and drinks menu will completely change with every season.”

The site is currently decked out like a kitsch 1970s comedy club for its opening comedy season, which launched on Friday with Tacit Theatre’s acclaimed one-man show Scaramouche Jones.

There will also be stand-up and sketch comedy over the coming weeks – before the space undergoes a complete overhaul leading up to its next themed season.

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Mr Filloux-Bennett said the new site will be more experimental than its parent.

“It will run a completely different style of work,” he said. “The Old Red Lion hasn’t produced its own show in the last 10 years. Half the works here will be produced in-house.”

Sitting in an unglamorous strip of shops between the Angel and the Old Street roundabout, which is hardly known as a cultural hotspot, Mr Filloux-Bennett admits it might be a challenge to draw in the audience.

He said: “We want to make it into a destination venue. And so far the interest has been fantastic.”

And now their main rival the King’s Head, in Upper Street, is currently concentrating on opera, the creative director sees the Red Lions as the true trailblazers of Islington theatre.

“Now the King’s Head has moved to opera we are the two fringe theatres in Islington,” he said. “It’s the Red Lion that is going to set the benchmark now.”