As part of Compass Arts Festival 2021, artists and performers Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti aka Small Acts, presented an installation in Kirkgate Market called Yorkshire Square. It explored the interaction between pub goers and the inns and taverns they frequent. They have now taken this theme one step further with a performance called Future Pub.
I reviewed Yorkshire Square last July so will not bore you with doing it again, although, should you be so inclined, you can have a look at my pearls of wisdom at https://tyke-it-to-the-limit.com/2021/07/15/compass-arts-festival-public-house-the-yorkshire-square/ so when I saw that they were presenting a follow-up I thought that I would, well, follow it up.
The event was staged – literally – at Holbeck Working Men’s Club, the oldest surviving WMC in the country and home to Slung Low Theatre Company. Before the main show, however, we were given an update from Yorkshire Square by Peter Reed, Co-Director of Compass Festival and the aforementioned Katie and Simon. The event had been a huge success and, as a result, a book had been produced called Public House – The Yorkshire Square by Small Acts which was distributed to those present, and a fine tome it is too, full of interesting facts, lots of comment and feedback from those who attended and loads of pictures from the nine days of its existence.
Once brought up to speed, it was upstairs to the concert room for the show. The stage was laid out like a local boozer with bar, tables and chairs, a TV on the wall and a stage, yes, another one. There was no dart board but then this was the lounge and not the tap room. In addition to Katie and Simon there was a lady whose name I am ashamed to say I didn’t catch, but who translated the words into BSL. Please accept my apologies and thank you for the sterling work you did on the night, and obviously do the rest of the time as well.
The show had all the elements of a Saturday night at the watering hole, which, of course it was; there was a pub quiz, a couple of ‘turns’, a meet raffle – yes – meet raffle, and a bit of a sing song.
Beer mats were on the table to be utilised by we ale carts to note on one side our hopes for the pub of the future, and on the other side our fears. These were read out at the end and provided a glass half-full moment, immediately followed by another which drained it.
Anyway, back to the beginning and the thoughts of Small Acts which were brilliantly illustrated by video clips shown on the wall mounted flat screen. They all began with the familiar sound and sight of a telly which took a minute or so to warm up. Fortunately the horizontal hold didn’t keep failing. The snippets were of drinkers in a pub called the Seven Stars in Cornwall, from where Small Acts originate, and took us through various aspects of the drinking experience as well as the changes which lockdown has made to their, and our, attitude to alcohol and its consumption. This was very apropos as Katie had told us how the confirmation of the Arts Council Grant enabling them to make the work, arrived an hour before they saw on TV that all pubs had been ordered to close indefinitely for the initial lockdown. Thankfully, that is now in the past and the show is most certainly on the road.
There was a short quiz with only five questions relating to beer and its consumption, which one smarty pants got totally correct, and the meet raffle, which some idiot – that would be me then – won. This was a great idea, and an even better pun, because there wasn’t a Sunday joint at stake, or even a couple of rashers and a sausage for breakfast, but the winner got to pick a further number from the hat and the winner of that, or in this case, loser, got to sit at a table with me so as we could meet – geddit? After all, that is one of the main functions of any pub.
After further video clips it was time for the ‘turn’ when Simon summoned his inner Dr John Cooper Clarke to give us a poem. He then morphed into Bernard Cribbins for a spoof of Right Said Fred.
The next act to take the stage was, thankfully, a lot more pleasing to the eye, being Katie Etheridge with a ballad we were all encouraged to sing-along to. By this time we were happy to oblige, what with the bar being open.
The show ended with more music and merriment utilising a couple of instruments discovered in the cardboard box full of ‘stuff’ that every pub has for the storage of lost property and general detritus. They had obviously had some Morris Dancers and a Mail Coach there recently.
There was a summing up with Small Act’s hopes and fears for the pub trade, which went from the Utopian to the Dystopian but, as with all things, life and society evolves and leisure activities are no exception.
To chip in my two penneth, the days of a pub at the corner of every fourth row of terrace houses are long gone, as are the halcyon days of working men’s clubs; thankfully Holbeck is still thriving but instead of a singer, comic and bingo on Sunday night it now stages exhibitions, opera, drama and community based events.
In the final analysis a public house is a business rather than a charity, and while it is turning a decent profit it will stay open, but it will only turn a profit if it gives customers what they want. Sometimes that is a local hub and sometimes a swanky cocktail lounge. If we don’t support the kind we like then we deserve to lose them, the future is in our hands, not theirs!
Here endeth today’s sermon. Don’t be the last supper in your ale house.
For more information on Small Acts please go to https://small-acts.co.uk/
For more about Holbeck WMC and Slung Low go to https://www.slunglow.org/what-is-the-holbeck/
And for more about Compass Arts go to https://compassliveart.org.uk/
To find out about how you can save your local pub from extinction go to Your Local Boozer And Spend Your Brass In It dot bloody com!
All photographs by Stan Graham