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The King’s Head Theatre in London opened its doors this week for a gala night in celebration of its new theatre building. Justine Simons, Deputy Mayor for Culture, was there.

James Seabright, Sofi Berenger and Justine Simons in the auditorium of the new King's Head theatre
James Seabright (Chair of Trustees), Sofi Berenger (Interim CEO) and Justine Simons (Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries) at the gala opening of the new KIng's Head Theatre

Ruth Hogarth

It’s awards season and actors across the globe are donning their finest outfits on red carpets from London to LA. As they take their place on stage to accept their awards, it’s worth sparing a thought for the journey that got them there. 

Whether it’s a BAFTA or an Oscar, so many actors started their journey treading the boards in a small, local theatre like the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington. A tiny space that paved the way for so much extraordinary talent including Hugh Grant, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Isabel Adomakoh Young, Tania Azevedo, the late Alan Rickman and Richard E Grant. 

It’s hard to imagine that they started their journey in a small back room behind the bar, north of the Thames. But that is exactly the point: talent can come from anywhere, it just needs a place to flourish.

An important space for expression

So when London’s oldest pub theatre needed help to secure a new home, the Mayor and I were determined to help. We were not prepared to stand by and see the end of such a wonderful venue, which had become the heart and soul of the LGBTQI+ community and provided such an important space for expression. There was no doubt in our minds, this iconic venue needed somewhere special to continue to flourish.

Through the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund, we were delighted to invest £800,000 to help provide a new home – just behind its original one. And earlier this month, the King’s Head Theatre moved into a wonderful new, purpose-built space on Upper Street. Set underground over six floors, with a 200-seater auditorium, two flexible cafe/bar spaces and a 50-seater late night cabaret space, it is also fully accessible. 
But bricks and mortar are only half the story – it’s the people who make a place. The King’s Head is a home for new talent and groundbreaking theatre. It is a place where stories transform us. 

Talent is everywhere, opportunity is harder to find

 But theatre must be for everyone and not just those who can afford it. And this is a cornerstone of City Hall’s work, making the arts accessible to all. London’s art and cultural institutions are a vital part of building communities, bringing people together and instilling a sense of pride in where people live. 

It is fantastic that through the theatre’s match-funding, there will be a year-round programme of diverse and accessibly priced theatre productions. These heavily subsidised tickets will be available to unemployed members of the community, removing the barrier for local residents. 

Talent is everywhere, but unfortunately, opportunity can sometimes be harder to find despite culture cutting through every industry, from tourism to housing, transport and education. It defines how London is perceived around the world and contributes billions a year to our economy.

A chance to explore curiosities and connect with culture

This is what Sadiq Kahn’s £74m regeneration programme is all about. Through investment, we have worked hard to support important community projects across the capital - from our high streets and town centres to industrial areas. 

Our aim is to give communities of all backgrounds a chance to explore curiosities and connect with culture in ways which may otherwise have been out of reach, helping realise our vision for London to become a place of opportunity for all.

Since 2017, alongside the King’s Head, we have helped more than 1,000 culture and community events and community food hubs, transforming pockets of the city with innovative and exciting projects. 

We have improved more than 40,000 square metres of public realm, supported high streets and revived commercial spaces. That includes the newly refurbished Cockpit Deptford, which provides affordable studio spaces, the Africa Centre in Southwark, which now has a new home, and the UK’s first Talent House for dance and Black music culture in Newham.

Culture is our DNA in London and with the right support and investment, good ideas can grow. These projects demonstrate the power of creativity to educate, enlighten and expand communities. I’m so proud of the work we have done to support and elevate creativity in the capital, I hope they will leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. There’s a really exciting future ahead for the King’s Head, we’re all in for a fantastic show.

Justine Simons is Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries in the Mayor of London’s Office.
 london.gov.uk | kingsheadtheatre.com/
 @justinesimons1 | @KingsHeadThtr

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photo of Justine Simons