“It’s a weird, twilight zone” says Sherlock and League of Gentlemen star Mark Gatiss
- Credit: Archant
The Islington actor and writer and husband Ian Hallard have “put their money where their mouth is” to back the King’s Head Theatre’s £100,000 emergency fund.
Islington couple Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard have “put their money where their mouth is” to back the King’s Head Theatre’s emergency fund.
Sherlock co-creator and The Favourite star Gatiss shares a home with his actor husband opposite the Upper Street venue, which has been hit by the coronovirus pandemic.
Celebrating its 50th year - with a move to purpose built premises due in December - the legendary pub theatre must raise £100,000 to stay afloat until it can reopen.
“A lot of theatres need to fundraise because it’s looking very unlikely they will open again until next year,” said Hallard, who has starred in plays at both the Park and Hope theatres.
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“I’ve lived in Islignton for 25 years and I’ve been going to the King’s Head all that time with many fond memories,” adds Gatiss, who was due to appear in his own adaptation of A Christmas Carol at Alexandra Palace this winter.
“It’s not just a pub theatre, it’s a genunine community space, the traffic of people to the theatre is part of the lifeblood of Upper Street. It’s that rare thing, a proper arts hub for directing, writing, stage management the whole caboodle.”
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Hallard adds: “It’s pretty tragic that it’s come just at the point where they are moving into the new Islington Square development and when the Mayor’s office had given them a grant for the new building.
“It’s so frustrating that at such an exciting point it’s fighting to survive at all.”
Both praise the King’s Head’s championing of work by LGBT writers, and artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s ambitious programme.
“It’s fantastic,” says Gatiss. “Adam has taken it onto another level, the sheer number of productions sometimes seven or eight different shows a week is extraordinary. At a time when the arts are being squeezed left right and centre with a pretty tone deaf government, it’s been very telling that people are noticing that theatre exists on a precipice.
He adds: “It’s not just a question of a few actors and writers being put out of work. Theatres are a community glue across the city.”
Hallard points out that fringe venues like the King’s Head often give creatives their first job.
“There’s a bigger story as a breeding ground for people who end up writing BAFTA winning TV. Everyone needs to cut their teeth somewhere. The danger is once these venues go, they are lost forever. It’s easier to keep them on life support than lose them completely and have to start from scratch when we come out at the other end.”
Gatiss, who has indeed won a BAFTA and an Emmy for co-writing Sherlock says: “I’ve been banging on for decades that you can take every single artistic bone out of your body and still make a hard-nosed business argument for the amount the arts contributes to GDP.”
As for the couple, Hallard says they are “very lucky” to have a garden, they are not frontline workers, and can walk their dog - although Hackney is preferable to Islington where they have to have to keep it on the lead.
“There are days when the weather is nice and you don’t feel so bad, spending time together, having lunch, walking the dog, other days are a bit more existential,” says Gatiss, who admits to being in a “strange twilight zone” with his writing.
“Who knew that the muse isn’t kind during a global pandemic?” He says wryly.
“It should be a good time to lock myself away and write that great novel but I feel paralysed. It’s not to do with not knowing whether your work will be published or produced, it’s just the world we are emerging into is so unknown. What am I writing this for? It’s a weird and strange new landscape.
“But like any crisis, it brings out the best and worst of people. Simple acts of kindness are very moving and people are recalibrating what’s important in their lives.”
Hallard who had one play about to be staged and is working on another, agrees there’s “a weird void that affects your motivation,” but predicts there “won’t be much appetite” for reliving the lockdown with pandemic plays.
Gatiss adds: “There have been comparisons to the Great Depression when audiences flocked to the cinema to see Busby Berkeley movies, but also to see Frankenstein.
“The first great horror boom came in the 30s and I’m intrigued to see where it settles down. People won’t want pure escapism but something that also reflects their experience.”
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