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High drama as veteran actor labels backstage conditions at Upper Street’s King’s Head Theatre the ‘worst he’s ever seen’

PUBLISHED: 13:00 14 March 2019

Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.

Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.

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A veteran actor has accused Upper Street’s famous King’s Head Theatre of having the worst backstage conditions he’s seen in 50 years – but the venue has defended its hospitality.

Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.

Ken Drury, who has appeared in King Lear at the National Theatre and in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, performed in Outlying Islands throughout January and shared an upstairs dressing room with three other cast members.

But he wasn’t happy about the state of it, or the fact it doubled as a kitchen for the theatre pub’s staff, and complained of people coming in to use the microwave while the cast were preparing.

The theatre hit back, saying there was nothing wrong with the space except that it needed cleaning.

But Ken insisted: “It was absolutely disgusting. There were four of us in the play – one actress and three actors. She had to say: ‘Can everyone look away so I can take my bra off?’ I’ve never worked in the fringe before and never will again.

Ken Drury in The Woman in Black. Picture: Tristram KentonKen Drury in The Woman in Black. Picture: Tristram Kenton

“People were coming in using the microwave. We had to use public toilets.

“It’s the worst I have seen in nearly 50 years.”

The King’s Head Theatre opened in 1970, becoming the first theatre pub in London since Shakespeare’s time. It will move into the new Islington Square development next year.

Trade union Equity visited after being contacted by Ken, but official Charlotte Bence said it found no real issues other than needing a good clean, which has since happened.

Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.

The theatre’s artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher said: “When things are dirty they should be cleaned up. We’re always looking to improve. We tried to reach out to Ken and he refused.

“We welcome 110 different companies a year and it’s worth noting this was a visiting production company, not a King’s Head production.

“The responsibility of cleaning the space is shared with the companies that use it.

“There are always going to be issues with such big demands on a small space.”

Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.Ken complained about the conditions backstage at the King's Head Theatre in Upper Street.

Ms Bence said: “After negative reports of backstage conditions were received, an Equity Official conducted a site visit and subsequently relayed to the production company that the space the cast were using did require cleaning, which the production company were already arranging in conjunction with the venue.

“A second site visit was carried out after the clean had taken place and no concerns were identified at this time.

“The Kings Head is unusual on the fringe in that there are two different backstage areas available to casts and other spaces available in the venue that can ensure privacy when changing. At their request, the Outlying Islands cast used the second space, and not the area the production company had hired.”

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