Old Red Lion Theatre

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Not to be confused with the Red Lion, an Elizabethan theatre.
Old Red Lion Theatre
ORL, Old Red
Old red lion theatre smc.JPG
Old Red Lion Theatre, May 2007
Address 418 St John Street
 United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°31′53″N 0°06′22″W / 51.5314°N 0.1062°W / 51.5314; -0.1062
Type fringe theatre
Capacity 60
Production Country Life
Opened 1979
Years active 32

The Old Red Lion Theatre is a fringe theatre, situated above a pub at Angel, in the London Borough of Islington.

It was founded in 1948 as the Old Red Lion Theatre Club.



The pub in itself is one of the oldest in London, having first been built in 1415 in what was then the rural village of Islington in open countryside and fields. A house called Goose Farm and some nearby cattle pens (for herds being driven to Smithfield Market) were the only structures to adjoin it, and St John Street (then called Chester Road) was a country lane.

"Evening" by Hogarth

18th century[edit]

In the late 18th century Chester Road became notorious for highwaymen, with patrols being provided to protect those travelling along it at night. At this time descriptions state that the Old Red Lion was a small brick house with three trees in its forecourt, visited by William Hogarth (who portrayed it in the middle distance of his painting "Evening", with the foreground being Sadler's Wells), Samuel Johnson and Thomas Paine (who wrote The Rights of Man in the shade of the trees in its forecourt).


The Old Red Lion was rebuilt in 1899, adding two exits onto different streets. This gave the pub the nickname "the In and Out", since taxicab passengers could avoid paying their fare by entering it through one door and disappearing through the other.


In 1979 a small studio theatre opened on the pub's first floor. The Old Red Lion Theatre has played host to some of Britain's most exciting theatrical talent since it was founded in 1979 as the Old Red Lion Theatre Club. Then led under the Artistic Direction of Charlie Hanson (Birds of a Feather, Harry Hill and Extras) it became a place for actors, directors, designers, writers and technicians to experiment and thrive with their art. After the King's Cross fire in 1987, the theatre was threatened with closure due to the tightening of fire regulations. A saviour came in the form of new Artistic Director Ken McClymont who raised funds to keep the theatre from closing.

Nina Raine, winner 2006 Most Promising Playwright Award, staged her first show 'Rabbit' at the Old Red Lion Theatre March/April 2006.[1]


Notable Past Productions[edit]

  • Chapel Street by Luke Barnes, 2–26 August 2011
  • A World Without Words, 19–30 July 2011
  • Waiting Like A Man, by Daniel Benoliel, 28 June - 16 July 2011
  • NIMBY by Lola Stephenson, 8–25 June 2011
  • Mojo Mickybo by Owen McCafferty, 17 May - 4 June 2011

Literary Department[edit]

The literary department reads over 1,000 scripts and has an open submissions policy. The theatre are constantly looking for new plays which help us reassess the way we live today. The literary department has been responsible for the discovery of recent hits such as 'Chapel Street' and 'The Firewatchers' among many others.

Artistic Directors[edit]

  • Charlie Hanson (1979–1987),
  • Ken McClymont (1987–2002)
  • Melanie Tait (2002–2004)
  • Helen Devine (2004–2010)
  • Henry Filloux-Bennett (Co-Artistic Director) (2010–2012)
  • Nicholas Thompson (Artistic Director) (2011–2014)
  • Stewart Pringle (Artistic Director) (2014-present)


Old Red Lion Theatre won the Dan Crawford Pub Theatre Award for 2006.[2]

External links[edit]