Adam Spreadbury-Maher: Rename the King’s Head Theatre in the move? No way
Ever since we announced that the King’s Head Theatre was moving, people have been asking if we’re going to change the name – more so than about the new spaces, or the impact to our staff, or about raising the money.
My instant response is this: absolutely not. A venue’s name is tied into its history as much as the people who have moved through it. Perhaps that’s why it’s always the first question – from the artists, to creatives and audiences. To change it, I would need to be comfortable with erasing all of that history in favour of starting something new.
I don’t see it that way, instead I see myself as the gatekeeper of King’s Head Theatre, a fringe venue for nearly 50 years, during which time thousands of new artists have passed through its doors.
In our recent staff discussions about the new King’s Head Theatre, our focus hasn’t been on reinventing the space – it’s been about finding a way to maintain the creative spice and theatrical quality we’re already associated with. Changing the name would imply we want to erase our legacy – we would much rather build upon it.
The Southwark Playhouse recently announced it is opening a new venue and moving, for the second time in the last few years. It has maintained its name and its splendid reputation.
The Arcola Theatre moved from Arcola Street to Ashwin Street but kept its name – and continued its artistic and environmental work, now functioning as a carbon-neutral venue.
Much like ourselves, The Bush in west London went from being a pub theatre to an expanded space in the exciting and sustainable old library, yet kept its name and aims, proudly intact.
Sometimes a name change comes with good reason. The West Yorkshire Playhouse, for example, recently announced it’s new name of Leeds Playhouse. The decision righted a historical wrong that saw the venue fail to celebrate its location and, further than that, put Leeds on the cultural map.
Similarly, the New London Theatre renaming to honour Gillian Lynne is only to be welcomed. It combats the exclusion of female artists from the naming of West End theatres, and also honours one of its greatest stars just before she sadly passed away.
Beyond such examples, I’m not a fan of the idea of changing theatres’ names – at the very best, it feels like an attempt to rewrite history and fails to respect the creatives that burnished it.
On moving to a new space, which triples the King’s Head’s size, our priority is keeping the name and everything it has stood for, despite moving out of the pub that birthed and going one door down the road.