Stage Door Theatre: new queers on the block

Brian Butler May 16, 2024

At a time when small theatre spaces are struggling to keep afloat, it’s a brave team who open a new venue – especially in London’s ‘Theatreland’.

But Robert McWhir and Richard Lambert have a lifetime’s experience of getting a gallon of theatre out of a pint pot of space.

Robert ran the wonderfully innovative and compact Landor Theatre in Clapham for 16 years, and Richard, through Lambco Productions, has triumphed with pop-up theatres, a pub garden and spaces above bars to create magic productions.

In 2023 Lambco had four LGBTQ+-themed shows running at the Edinburgh Fringe, after a season at the Drayton Arms pub theatre in West London.

Now Robert and Richard are the creative force behind Stage Door Theatre, in a function room and bar above the Prince of Wales pub in Drury Lane, cheek by jowl with London’s West End.

It could be regarded as risky but both sounded confident when I spoke to them about their new venture, a theatre where you can have dinner in situ before the performance, and stay on afterwards.

Robert McWhir

Robert said: “I like the idea of dinner theatre – it’s a US and South African thing, but not much in the UK. Dinner is normally associated with cabaret, but the King’s Head started that way.”

The theatre opened its doors in January and its first show was the two-hander Sondheim compilation show, Marry Me A Little, which gave an intimate view by a gay composer of the difficulty of relationships  – fitting into the venue’s rule of six. This means that a play can have up to six actors but a musical can only have a total of six performers including musicians – it’s a space and cost thing clearly.

Its next three productions all have a gay theme – currently playing on selected dates is Claudio Macor’s The Tailor-Made Man, which is the true story of Hollywood legend Billy Haines who was fired by MGM for being gay and refusing to give up his lifelong partner Jimmie and marry silent movie actress Pola Negri.

Thief by Liam Rudden is not a gay play as such, though it’s about Sailor, a man who has sex with men for money. But he’s much more – he thrives in bars, dives and doss houses of squalid ports and lives for rent, theft and betrayal.

Sauna Boy by Dan Ireland-Reeves is a semi-autobiographical journey into a south coast gay sauna, with revelations about what goes on behind its closed doors.

But the venue is not an exclusively LGBTQ+ house and Robert has some amazing coups up his sleeve, yet to be revealed.

Richard Lambert

Richard told me: “Having created pop-up theatre previously, and working in fringe theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe, you learn to look at a venue as something other than a traditional theatre space.

“You work with the building and get a feel for what it could be using imagination, creativity and careful selection of the technology.

“Small venues can only pay their way if people buy tickets and come to see the show. It’s really a fine line between a production losing a lot of money or managing to cover the production costs. I don’t think the general public realise how precarious this business is.

“I’m absolutely loving the fact that dinner is an optional add-on to the show ticket. The Prince of Wales has recently enhanced their menu and now offer a choice of eight main meals and four dessert options. The food is really good. This is a night with your friends that isn’t going to break the bank.”

Production companies can apply to use the space when there isn’t a home-grown show on. “What we offer has to sell tickets and be high quality,” Robert said. He might also have added that shows have to be capable of being set up and dismantled very quickly as the room is sometimes used by the pub.

“We’re still in our infancy – we’ll see how the programming goes as time goes by. Every show is a challenge for different reasons, but it’s exciting to see how things fit into the space. I always say to actors they’re here for a reason – because they’re brilliant.”

To potential audiences, he says: “come early and eat, stay where you are and catch the show- it’s a great deal for the West End.”

Information about shows and tickets HERE