Interview: Pub theatre returns to Upstairs at the Western

upstairs at the western

Situated above The Western pub is a little theatre called Upstairs at The Western, hosting local Leicester talent and small productions.

With so many changes at The Western in recent times, including new owners, a refurb and more, we caught up with Upstairs Director, Kit Fordham, to find out how things are going at Leicester’s only pub theatre.

upstairs at the western

There have been lots of changes at The Western, tell us about the new pub and venue?

It’s been a busy old time at The Western! Our previous landlords gave up their tenancy at the start of 2020 and then our season got cancelled due to COVID19 so we were a bit up in the air about whether we’d have a home and if theatre could even happen again!

Our fab new landlords, John and Moira, have taken over the tenancy back under the Everards umbrella. They’ve had a massive renovation including Cafe West and it’s looking great. They even have a coffee machine and a food menu – which our audiences were always asking for!

Our venue Upstairs is relatively the same as it’s always been. We’re making a few COVID related changes including reducing our seat capacity from 42 to 28 as we know it’s a cosy room. We can’t wait for our audiences to return and see the new look!

upstairs at the western

Your autumn season will be launching soon, what are the highlights?

Our season kicks off on Friday 10th September with ‘I, AmDram’ which markets itself as ‘One queer Londoner’s hilarious and touching tribute to family, hometown and amateur dramatics.’ One of our Directors saw a preview of the show and said it is definitely hilarious!

Other highlights include a double bill of 90s nostalgia with shows ‘Lovefool’ and ‘MATES: The Improvised 90s Sitcom’ coming to us on Friday 1st October and Edalia Day’s ‘Too Pretty Too Punch’ which is a spoken word comedy show about gender, the media and not fitting any of the boxes. We had ‘Too Pretty Too Punch’ scheduled for our cancelled Spring season in 2020 so we’re so pleased to be getting them back!

You’ve partnered with Everards on a ticket scheme, how does that work and how can people benefit?

We’re delighted to have been chosen for funding from the Everard’s Community Excellence Fund! We’re running a project called LEFREE, a pun on our local postcode of LE3, which has three branches.

The free ticket scheme is for anyone in the LE3 area who hasn’t seen a show with us before. All you have to do if you’d be interested in seeing a show for free is to email us at [email protected] with the name of the show you’d like to see and we’ll confirm if we have a space for you! You can find more info about our shows on our website!

upstairs at the western

We’re also running weekly Crafternoon sessions and Art Walks. The Crafternoons have been running for a month already and we have another four sessions scheduled which include sketching, singing, hand lettering and puppet making. They take place in The Western Pub & Cafe West’s garden 1-3pm (days differ weekly so please check our website).

The Art Walks are starting on Monday 6th September and each week we’re having a local artist give us a tour of the local area with a different discipline – local history, photography and street art to name a few.

All these sessions are totally free to attend and we supply all materials needed for the Crafternoons. We’ve had a great response so far and some of our locals have been saying it’s the first time they’ve be able to get out the house and how much they are enjoying socialising in a safe space. We’re a friendly bunch here at Upstairs so if you’re keen to get out, we’d love to see you!

upstairs at the western

For anyone who hasn’t visited Upstairs at the Western before, how would you describe the venue?

We are a small black box theatre space, based above The Western Pub in the West End of Leicester. We’re entirely voluntarily run from our Directors to our Front of House volunteers and we all give up our time for the love of our little pub theatre.

Our ethos is to prioritise the work of women and non-binary people and like to bring new work to our stage. We’ve had lots on our stage over the years from theatre to spoken word to choirs! We’re keen to improve our presence in the community and that’s why we’re so pleased to have received funding so we can offer free work to our locals.

How important is the arts scene in Leicester and how vital is it that people support venues like this?

We managed to survive the pandemic thanks to funding from Arts Council England. We wouldn’t have made it through without it! Support from our locals is the only reason we can continue to run and all the work we do is for them too.

The arts scene is Leicester has always been varied and thriving and now coming out of this hard time, it’s great to see the scene begin to tentatively start up again. Without support, the arts just won’t be able to succeed so it’s essential we all get behind the venues, artists and creatives.

upstairs at the western

What have been some of your highlights of being involved in arts in Leicester?

We always love being involved with Leicester Comedy Festival and love the buzz it brings the venue. We’re so glad LCF is returning next year with a full programme!

I’ve personally worked in Arts venues across Leicester and love that there’s so much going on in this relatively small city from new, accessible work at Attenborough Arts Centre to the big musicals at Curve. We like to think we offer something slightly different to the other venues in Leicester – not just because we’re the only pub theatre in Leicester – as we offer an intimate, friendly experience and most of our Directors are actually LE3 locals ourselves.

What’s your favourite thing about running Upstairs at the Western?

As a fairly new board of Directors we particularly love it when someone new comes to the theatre and discovers what we do. The community work we’ve been running has been so rewarding so far and we can’t wait to get as many people involved as we can.

We love meeting incoming companies and being a stop off on their tours. I have personally been in their position touring into venues so I know how great it is to have a nice welcome and a supportive team behind you when you arrive somewhere new. 

As we’re all volunteers who are doing this because of our love for theatre, it’s great to work alongside like-minded Directors. We’re all working hard to create this programme and events for the locals, because we are some of the locals ourselves. Another reason we love being a part of Upstairs is the volunteers who give up their time to help us with Front of House on the night, we can’t thank them enough!

upstairs at the western

What are your long term goals for the venue?

We’d like to continue our community projects and develop a better relationship with our neighbours. For instance, we’re right under a massive CODE building full of students but we haven’t managed to connect with our student audience yet!

Hopefully with the arts starting to return, we can provide rehearsal space and a stage for our local creatives as well as incoming companies. We know how tough it’s been this last 18 months and we want to help in whatever way we can – whether that’s getting funded projects that pay local artists to provide events for our locals or open our space to them.

We’re constantly talking about our work and how we can be as inclusive and relevant as possible. We realise our theatre is not accessible and we are discussing ways to make the work we do available for more of our community – whether this is live streaming or taking our work into other spaces. We have a lot of things planned so watch this space!

Where can people find out more?

You can head to our website at www.upstairsatthewestern.com, follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter. Or for any questions or further information you can always email us at [email protected].