‘Dark and edgy’ plays set for Hampstead’s The Rabbit Hole theatre

Steve Coxshall in The Rabbit Hole theatre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Steve Coxshall in The Rabbit Hole theatre. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Polly Hancock

The resident theatre company at the Duke of Hamilton ‘raises the bar’ and money for Parkinson’s UK

It’s not an easy time to be a pub manager – something Steve Coxshall, the owner of Hampstead’s The Duke of Hamilton, knows all too well.

But as rivals close their doors, the independent local struggles on – and that’s thanks in part to its little-known basement venue, The Rabbit Hole.

It is well regarded for its comedy and music nights – Ed Sheeran even played a gig here before he hit the big time – but Coxshall wants to acquire the same reputation for the New End pub’s theatre offering, in order to attract more punters and stay afloat.

The not-for-profit venue has just appointed a resident theatre company, Shook Up Shakespeare, and this week it hosts the first ever UK production of the critically acclaimed US play, My Barking Dog.

“The Rabbit Hole really ups the game,” Coxshall says.

“I’m not putting other pubs in Hampstead down, but the theatre really raises the bar in terms of what we are bringing to the table.

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“We’ve got the first showing of this Eric Coble play, in Hampstead, which has been massive in America so I really hope Hampstead people go out and support this.”

Fans of traditional theatre looking for straight Shakespeare and Chekhov plays should look elsewhere, however, as Coxshall is committed to putting on what he calls “dark and edgy” productions in his atmospheric below-stairs venue.

My Barking Dog is typical of the kind of play we will be seeing more and more of underneath The Duke.

Steeped in surrealist satire, it is an environmental parable about two pitiable people who find a coyote on their doorstep.

Director Leah Townsley, who lives in Chalk Farm, describes it as an “urban fairytale”.

“It feels totally unrealistic,” she says.

“The writer talked about it as ‘dark magic’ because it’s set in a non-reality which makes it a story-telling experience, while it’s about something very real.”

The play is raising money for the charity, Parkinson’s UK – a cause close to the hearts of both the actor Lloyd Morris, and Coxshall.

Morris’s father is a current sufferer, while Coxshall’s dad sadly passed away earlier this year after having the illness for nine years.

“To be able to give back to the charity would be great,” says Coxshall.

As well as a theatre-packed summer season, the venue is already making plans for a war play to tie in with Remembrance Sunday in support of veterans, and a good old-fashioned family-friendly Christmas pantomime – the one exception to the “dark and edgy” rule.

North London is lucky, however, in its plethora of fringe theatres – from the mighty Hampstead Theatre to the beloved Upstairs at the Gatehouse.

Is there really room for another muscling in on the market?

It’s looking good for the theatre so far. Its production of Lolita earlier this year was sold out for the entirety of its run.

But Coxshall warns that its future is entirely dependent on the support of the community.

“The pub funds the theatre, so if there’s no pub, there’s no theatre,” he says.

“It’s very easy to go home after work, close the gates and have a drink of Chablis, but then the talent won’t come back to Hampstead, and that would be very, very sad.”

Reason enough, perhaps, to be like Alice and go down The Rabbit Hole to see what wonders might await you.