The Old Red Lion, Islington

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Not to be confused with the Red Lion, an Elizabethan theatre.
The Old Red Lion, Islington
ORL, Old Red
Old red lion theatre smc.JPG
The Old Red Lion Pub and Theatre, 2007
Address 418 St John Street
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 is a pub and fringe theatre, at Angel, in the London Borough of Islington.

The theatre was founded in 1948 as the Old Red Lion Theatre Club. The pub was Grade II listed in 1994 by Historic England.[1]



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, designed by Eedle and Myers,[1] adding two exits onto different streets. This gave the pub the nickname "the In and Out", since taxi 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, as the Old Red Lion Theatre Club. Under artistic director Charlie Hanson, it became a place for actors, directors, designers, writers and technicians to experiment. After the King's Cross fire in 1987, the theatre was threatened with closure due to the tightening of fire regulations. New artistic director Ken McClymont raised funds to keep the theatre from closing.

Notable past productions[edit]

Nina Raine, winner 2006 Most Promising Playwright Award, staged her first show 'Rabbit' at the Old Red Lion Theatre March/April 2006.[2]

Current History[edit]

The pub is a popular venue for celebrities, including Jude Law, Dido, John Hurt are all known regulars when in the area. The cast of HBO series Game of Thrones also regularly visited when working in London. It also the main pub for the Capital Canaries, the official London fan club for Norwich City F.C.

Literary department[edit]

The literary department reads over 1,000 scripts each year, under an open submissions policy.

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.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Old Red Lion public house". Historic England. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington | Theatre Tickets, whats on and theatre information". Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]

External links[edit]