THEATRE HISTORY


The Finborough Theatre was founded in 1980.

Artists working at the theatre in the 1980s included Clive Barker, Rory Bremner, Nica Burns, Kathy Burke, Ken Campbell, Jane Horrocks and Claire Dowie. In the 1990s, the Finborough Theatre became known for new writing including Naomi Wallace’s first play The War Boys; Rachel Weisz in David Farr’s Neville Southall’s Washbag; four plays by Anthony Neilson including Penetrator and The Censor, both of which transferred to the Royal Court Theatre; and new plays by Tony Marchant, David Eldridge, Mark Ravenhill and Phil Willmott. New writing development included a number of works that went to become modern classics including Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F***king, Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower, Naomi Wallace’s Slaughter City and Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.

Since 2000, new British plays have included Laura Wade’s London debut with her adaptation of W.H. Davies’ Young Emma, commissioned for the Finborough Theatre; James Graham’s Albert’s Boy with Victor Spinetti; Sarah Grochala’s S27; Nigel Planer’s Death of Long Pig; Peter Nichols’ Lingua Franca, which transferred Off-Broadway; Joy Wilkinson’s Fair, Nicholas de Jongh’s Plague Over England; and Jack Thorne’s Fanny and Faggot, all of which transferred to the West End. Many of the Finborough Theatre’s new plays have been published and are on sale from our website.

UK premieres of foreign plays have included Brad Fraser’s Wolfboy; Lanford Wilson’s Sympathetic Magic; Larry Kramer’s The Destiny of Me; Tennessee Williams’ Something Cloudy, Something Clear; the English premiere of Robert McLellan’s Scots language classic, Jamie the Saxt; and three West End transfers – Frank McGuinness’ Gates of Gold with William Gaunt and John Bennett, Joe DiPietro’s F***ing Men and Craig Higginson’s Dream of the Dog with Janet Suzman. 

Rediscoveries of neglected work have included the first London revivals of Rolf Hochhuth’s Soldiers and The Representative; both parts of Keith Dewhurst’s Lark Rise to Candleford; The Women’s War, an evening of original suffragette plays; Etta Jenks with Clarke Peters and Daniela Nardini; Noël Coward’s first play, The Rat Trap; Charles Wood’s Jingo with Susannah Harker; two sell out productions of work by J.M. Barrie – What Every Woman Knows and Quality Street; and Emlyn Williams' Accolade with Aden Gillett and Saskia Wickham.

Music Theatre has included the new (premieres from Grant Olding, Charles Miller, Michael John LaChuisa, Adam Guettel, Andrew Lippa and Adam Gwon's Ordinary Days which transferred to the West End) and the old (the UK premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair which transferred to the West End, and the acclaimed Celebrating British Music Theatre series, reviving forgotten British musicals).

 

1980 - 1990

The Finborough Theatre opened in July 1980, above the Finborough Arms, built in 1868.

The theatre was founded by June Abbott who in its first seasons produced work ranging from Shakespare to Vaclev Havel to Mrozek and new plays by Sheila Yeger, Roger Stennett and Jeremy Kingston's Oedipus at the Crossroads.

From 1981, the theatre was then run by Mike McCormack under whom the theatre was completely reconstructed in 1983 and, in 1984, was the first London fringe theatre to be awarded a grant from the late GLC. Productions included Nica Burns in her own adaptation of H.E. Bates' Dulcina, directed by Colin Watkeys; the UK premiere of The Open Couple by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, directed by Simon Usher; Clive Barker's The History of the Devil; the world premiere of Clare Dowie in her own Adult Child/Dead Child (1988 Time Out Theatre Award); Gerard Murphy's British premiere of Don Nigro's Seascape with Sharks and Dancer; Last Judgement with Gordon Warnecke; Home Free, directed by Kathy Burke; Ken Campbell in Memories of Amnesia and The Furtive Nudist; Days of Cavafy with Mark Frankel; the sell-out Starving Artists of Honolulu’s Holding Back the Ocean; and Mark Rylance's production of The Changeling. From 1982 to 1988, Colin Watkeys and Nica Burns also presented the Finborough Cabaret, late-night comedy and cabaret on Fridays and Saturdays, from 1982 to 1988 presenting the work of many comics, writers, musicians and dancers who are now household names including Jo Brand, the first public appearance of 21 year old Rory Bremner, Ken Campbell, Julian Clary, Claire Dowie, Jenny Eclair, Ainsley Harriott, John Hegley, Mark Lamarr, Paul Merton, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas and Benjamin Zephaniah.

“I cannot recommend strongly enough a visit to the Finborough” Michael Coveney, Financial Times

1991 - 1994

From 1991 to 1994, under Cathryn Horn and Mary Peate, the Finborough Theatre became well known for presenting new writing.
"Over the last three years, the Finborough has seriously rivalled the Royal Court, Hampstead and the Bush as a venue for new writing" Michael Billlington, The Guardian 1994.

Productions included Naomi Wallace's first play The War Boys; Geraldine Sherman's When Its Over; Stephanie McKnight's Beat the Air, directed by Sarah Frankcom; Karen Hope's Foreign Lands, directed by Jessica Dromgoole; Tom Kempinski's When the Past is Still to Come; David Farr's Neville Southalls Washbag with Will Keen, Rachel Weisz and Nicola Walker which was later revised into the West End play, Elton John's Glasses; and three plays by Anthony Neilson - The Year of the Family with Rachel Weisz and Tim Barlow, Normal: the Dusseldorf Ripper and Penetrator which transferred from the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and went on to play at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs.

"No independent outfit turned out more regularly interesting surprises than the Finborough" Dominic Dromgoole in his book The Full Room

In 1994, the Finborough Theatre was taken over by The Steam Industry, led by Artistic Director Phil Willmott. The Steam Industry presented many successful seasons of linked work including Dangerous States (1994) including I'll Show You Mine - an evening of short plays by young authors including Mark Ravenhill and Phil Willmott; Illyria, a version of Twelfth Night and The Oedipus Table from Sophocles; Broadway Writing (1995) including Strike with music by Mark Knopfler (Time Out Critics' Choice); New Writing (1995) which included Watch Out for Mr Stork by Diane Samuels, Function of the Orgasm by Tom Smith and Mark Ravenhill's production of the Chinese Yuan plays, Tales of Love and Justice; States of the Nation (1996-97) featuring David Eldridge's A Week with Tony, Tony Marchant's The Fundraisers, starring Tom Watt and Chris Lee's The Optimist's Daughters; Discipline (1998) with Crime and Punishment, directed by Phil Willmott, which was shortlisted for the Empty Space Peter Brook Award; TheatreCanada (1999) including the UK premiere reading of David Young's Antarctica, later seen in the West End; London (2000) including Chris Lee's Pearson Award winning play On Line and Paranoid in the Sentimental City; and Faith and Science (2001) including John Mighton's Possible Worlds (one of London Theatre Reviews' Best Fringe Productions of 2001).

1995 - 1998

The Steam Industry's new writing development work led on to productions of Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F***king (Out of Joint, Royal Court, West End and an international tour), Naomi Wallace's Slaughter City (Royal Shakespeare Company), Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman (National Theatre), Conor McPherson's This Lime Tree Bower (Bush Theatre) and David Eldridge's Serving It Up (Bush Theatre).

The Finborough Theatre was awarded a Guinness Theatre Ingenuity Award for two years running in 1996 and 1997. This enabled The Steam Industry to collaborate with the Royal National Theatre Studio on developing two new musicals, including one with Don Black, lyricist of Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love and Billy, and to host a season of new plays presented by The Red Room for three months in 1997 with productions of Judy Upton's The People on the River, Lisa Perrotti's Tucson, Robert Young's Surfing and Anthony Neilson's The Censor which transferred directly to the Royal Court and won the Writers Guild Award for Best Fringe Play and the Time Out Live Award for Best New Play on the Fringe. ("One of the best and most original things the Royal Court did at the New Ambassadors" The Sunday Times).

"The Finborough has nevertheless played a vital part…in the explosion of creativity in British theatre in the 1990s. It was here that Max Stafford-Clark first glimpsed the potential of Mark Ravenhill." Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre

"You never knew where you would next enjoy a new voice or a treasured evening next - it could be at the Finborough, the Bush, the Royal Court, the Royal Shakespeare Company…" Dominic Dromgoole, The Guardian

Other productions included The Steam Industry's production of Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg's musical The Hired Man; the first shows by The League of Gentlemen; the UK premiere of David Mamet's The Woods with Peter Polycarpou and Katie Hims' The Breakfast Soldiers (Time Out Critics' Choice).

1999 - 2001

Neil McPherson became Artistic Director in 1999. Productions in the early years of his tenure included Jonathan Moore's Treatment and Brad Fraser's Wolfboy in repertoire (Time Out Critics' Choice); Diary of a Madman with Crispin Bonham Carter; Waterloo Day with Robert Lang; the London New Play Festival with the sell-out The Davids and Doomsday Girl by Moira Buffini, directed by Lisa Forrell; Anthony Neilson's The Night Before Christmas (Time Out Critics' Choice); Phil Willmott's production of The Grapes of Wrath; Ferdinand Bruckner's Pains of Youth with Stephen Billington; Missing Stars with Melanie Clark Pullen; a three month season from Stephen Henry's Theatre 28 including the world premieres of James Martin Charlton's controversial ecstasy+GRACE and Chris Pickles' The Silent Treatment (Top 10 Plays of 2001 - Theatre Record) with Euan Morton who went straight on to create his Olivier Award nominated role in the musical Taboo; Sarah Phelps' Modern Dance for Beginners (subsequently produced at the Soho Theatre); and the UK premiere of Lanford Wilson's Sympathetic Magic (Time Out Critics' Choice).

2002

2002 saw Cornish Theatre Collective's sell-out adaptation of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist (The Guardian Pick of the Week); Carolyn Scott-Jeffs' sell-out comedy Out in the Garden (which transferred to the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh) and Tarnished Angel (subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 4); Chris Dunkley's Mirita (Time Out Critics' Choice); two plays from New York City - Call It Peace which went on to great success Off-Broadway and the huge critical success Syndrome; the musical Schwartz It All About; the hugely successful long-overdue London premiere of Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me (Nicholas de Jongh's No 1 Critics Choice in The Evening Standard for three weeks running); and the first London revival of Louise Page's Falkland Sound to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Falklands War.

"A blazing beacon of intelligent endeavour, nurturing new writers while finding and reviving neglected curiosities from home and abroad”Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

2003

The Finborough Theatre reopened in April 2003 after a major six month refurbishment with a season of three British Premieres of North American Plays including the Governor General's Award winning The Monument by Colleen Wagner, and the sell out UK premiere of Tennessee Williams Something Cloudy, Something Clear, (Critics' Choice in both Time Out and The Financial Times), followed by a season of British work including I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda (Time Out Critics' Choice, published and broadcast on BBC World Service as Play of the Week), and The Women's War, a centenary celebration of the suffragette movement.

2004

2004 opened with a season of four new plays including two commissioned works by our writers-in-residence including Laura Wade's Young Emma (Time Out Critics' Choice). Laura subsequently won the Pearson Award Bursary to continue as our writer-in-residence, while director Tamara Harvey is currently directing at Shakespeares Globe and in the West End. Other 2004 productions included the Vietnam drama How I Got That Story by Amlin Gray; the Victorian comedy Masks and Faces, revived for the first time in over 70 years; the world premieres of Amy Evans Achidi Js Final Hours, directed by playwright Che Walker; and three productions in a row which were named Time Out Critics' Choice: Jason Hall's Eyes Catch Fire, Lynn Seifert's Coyote Ugly and the first London revival for more than 40 years of Rolf Hochhuth's Soldiers (also The Times First Choice). Both Time Out Critics' Choice and the Evening Standard Critics Choice was awarded to the UK premiere of Frank McGuinness' Gates of Gold with William Gaunt and Olivier Award nominee, the late John Bennett in his last stage role.

2005

2005 productions included Time Out Critics' Choices for Dameon Garnett’s Break Away, Simon Vinnicombe’s Year 10 (which transferred to the BAC Time Out Critiocs' Choice Season and the International Theatre Festival in Strasbourg), Joy Wilkinson’s Fair (which went on to play a National Tour before transferring to the West End), both parts of Keith Dewhurst’s Lark Rise to Candleford - performed in promenade and in repertoire and the Great War drama Red Night. Other productions have included Etta Jenks with Clarke Peters and Daniela Nardini; The Gigli Concert with Niall Buggy, Catherine Cusack and Paul McGann (which transferred to the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms); the UK premiere of Darius Milhaud’s opera Médée; Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams with Linda Bassett; James Graham’s new play Albert’s Boy with Victor Spinetti; the first London revival of Brian Friel's The Freedom of the City and a unique revival of Arthur Conan Doyle's Waterloo with Tim Barlow as the last survivor of the Battle of Waterloo. All the new plays presented in 2005 have been published.
"Few leading fringe theatres have walked off with so many awards or promoted such a rich variety of writers as the Finborough"Jeremy Malies, Plays International

2006

2006 saw productions of the London premiere reading of Peter Oswald's Lucifer Saved with Mark Rylance; Blackwater Angel, the UK debut of Irish playwright Jim Nolan starring Sean Campion; the first London revival for over 75 years of Loyalties by John Galsworthy; the UK premiere of John Michael La Chuisa's Lucky Nurse and Other Short Musical Plays; the start of our Celebrating British Music Theatre series with sell-out productions of Florodora, Our Miss Gibbs and The Maid of the Mountains; the world premiere of Linda Marlowe in Believe; the [ rediscoveries season ] including David Mercer's After Haggerty, Gerhart Hauptmann's The Beaver Coat and Rolf Hochhuth's The Representative - all in their first ever London revivals and all unseen for at least forty years; as well as rare revivals of Young Woodley by John van Druten and Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson; and the first ever revival of Noel Coward's first play, The Rat Trap.

2007

2007 saw sell-out premiere productions of Joshua Sobol's IWitness and Jack Thorne's Fanny and Faggot (Time Out Show of the Week) which also transferred to the West End; two more sell-out Celebrating British Music Theatre productions - A "Gilbert and Sullivan" Double Bill featuring a play by Gilbert and an operetta by Sullivan in their first revival in more than a century, and Dame Ethel Smyth's opera, The Boatswain's Mate; the [ rediscoveries season 2007 ] including Jean-Paul Sartre's Men Without Shadows and T.W. Robertson's Ours (Time Out Critics' Choice) and the English premiere of Robert McLellan's Scots language drama Jamie the Saxt; and the [ new work season 2007 ] saw the world premieres of the new musical, When Midnight Strikes (Time Out Critics' Choice) and a newly commissioned drama on Margaret Thatcher, Little Madam by James Graham.

“A disproportionately valuable component of the London theatre ecology. Its programme combines new writing and revivals, in selections intelligent and audacious." Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times

“One of the most stimulating venues in London, fielding a programme that is a bold mix of trenchant, politically thought-provoking new drama and shrewdly chosen revivals of neglected works from the past.” Paul Taylor, The Independent

2008

2008 saw the world premiere of Plague Over England by Nicholas de Jongh starring Jasper Britton, Simon Dutton, David Burt and Nichola McAuliffe, which is scheduled to transfer to the West End, F***ing Men by Joe Di Pietro with Scott Capurro, Many Roads to Paradise by Stewart Permutt with Miriam Karlin, Sharon Maughan in Simon Vinnicombe's Cradle Me, Sons of York by James Graham (Time Out Critics' Choice), and Julie Atherton in the UK premiere of Adam Gwon's musical Ordinary Days. - and revivals of Weapons of Happiness by Howard Brenton with Hilton McRae, Jingo by Charles Wood with Susannah Harker and Anthony Howell, A Day by the Sea by N.C. Hunter, Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square (Time Out Critics' Choice and Four Stars in The Times, Evening Standard, Time Out, Whatsonstage, and The Financial Times) as well as a major retrospective of Armenian-American writer William Saroyan with productions of three of his plays. We also presented two more sell-out Celebrating British Music Theatre productions – Sandy Wilson's The Buccaneer; and the record-breaking 1916 comic opera, Chu Chin Chow.

2009

2009  included John Antrobus' Captain Oates' Left Sock (Time Out Critics' Choice and Show of the Week), a sell out Burns Night for the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns' birthday, Olivier Award winner Nichola McAuliffe and Patrick Ryecart in the European premiere of Untitled, Oscar nominee Michael Craig in the European premiere of Trying, Phil Willmott's adaptation of Pinero's The Enchanted Cottage, the world premiere of actor Nigel Planer's play, Death of Long Pig, the sell out European premieres of two musicals - Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair (which transferred to the West End in 2009) and Michael John LaChiusa's Little Fish, and only the second UK production of Mikhail Bulgakov's Moliere or The League of Hypocrites.

2010

2010 saw the sell-out London debut of multi-award-winning Canadian playwright Michael Healey's Generous, the sell-out world premiere of Anders Lustgarten's play on the BNP, A Day at the Racists (winner of the Pearson Award Catherine Johnson Award for Best Play and shortlisted for the John Whiting Award), two plays by multi-award-winning Playwright in Residence at the Finborough Theatre, Bekah Brunstetter with You May Go Now and Miss Lilly Gets Boned, the UK premiere of Craig Higginson's Dream of the Dog with Janet Suzman which transferred to the West End, the world premiere of a new play by Peter Nichols, Lingua Franca, with Ian Gelder, Rula Lenska, Chris New, Charlotte Randle and Natalie Walter, which transferred Off-Broadway, the sell out European premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Me and Juliet, rediscoveries of Love on The Dole by Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow, The Northerners by Harold Brighouse and What Every Woman Knows and Quality Street by J.M. Barrie and Vibrant - An Anniversary Festival of Finborough Playwrights featuring 30 new plays by 30 Finborough writers in 30 days featuring staged readings of brand new plays by some of the well-known names who began their careers at the Finborough Theatre over the last thirty years including Mike Bartlett, Claire Dowie, David Eldridge, James Graham, Nicholas de Jongh, Peter Oswald, Nick Payne, Mark Ravenhill, Laura Wade, Naomi Wallace, Phil Willmott and Alexandra Wood, alongside some of the new writers we have discovered, developed or championed in recent years.