The Gagarin Theatre Bar, lying six metres belowground, will be as interesting an experience as descending below the decks of the cruiser Belfast. Seated below the Thames water table, looking through the bar’s glass panels, a drinker who stays long enough will see the Thames tide come in.
The 1990s-built Menier Theatre and its 200 year old wood beamed bar are testaments to 400 years of Bankside theatre. The bar displays every poster from the Menier’s past seven years of success. Each theatregoer passes through the 1870s restaurant and into this bar area, and finally to the disorientating theatre space, often made unfamiliar because the seats and stage appear to have revolved since the last visit. It is as if the audience members have walked through Southwark’s mysterious back alleys like Rose Lane or Clink Street, only to find themselves not in The Globe, but in an unexpected spectacle. When they are seated, each viewer’s anticipation is rewarded by extraordinarily intimate theatre. As the night of storytelling begins, the audience remembers the closeness of mummy telling childhood bedtime stories like Robin Hood.
A visitor to the Gagarin Theatre will have a similar sense of journeying far from the river, but this time it will be into a reminder of space and travel. The underground bar will have the feel of a working space ship. All the theatre’s mechanical apparatus will be on show above, where walkways will ease maintenance and replacements. With the staff all dressed in boiler suits and overalls, the Gagarin Square Bar will remind drinkers that there were docks only a few hundred yards away and that the dockers at the wharves and porters at the Borough Market had a 24-hour thirst. In fact, there were even warehouses built on the sites of the Menier and Gagarin Theatres in Roman times, as will be shown in the archaeological display. It is easy to believe that thirsty workers over 2000 years ago would have stopped at this very spot to quench their thirst. The bar will be an intermediary point between the familiar and the unknown. The Gagarin Theatre will, like the Menier Chocolate Factory, have a moveable seating area, allowing each show to have completely individual staging and seating positions. The theatre will also provide for late arriving audience members a standing box with sound and perhaps a screen, so no one need miss the entire first scene. The Gagarin Theatre, like the Menier, breaks the identikit mould of London theatres that beg from the state rather than innovate.
The Menier Chocolate Factory has produced a string of shows that have gone on to tour the country or open on Broadway. Currently, Abigail's Party is completing a UK tour while in 2010, the Menier's productions of A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway. As well as staging exciting original drama, therefore, a second theatre in Gagarin Square would provide a perfect second venue for the Menier's numerous successes.
Critics' Circle Theatre Awards 2012
Best Musical (New or Revival): Merrily We Roll Along
Off West End Awards 2011
Most Welcoming Theatre (Central London)
Best Theatre Foodie Experience (Central London)
Theatregoers’ Choice Awards 2011
Best Solo Performance: Meera Syal, Shirley Valentine
Clarence Derwent Award 2010
Josefina Gabrielle, Sweet Charity
Drama Desk Awards 2010
Best Musical Revival: La Cage aux Folles
Best Actress in a Musical: Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music
Best Actor in a Musical: Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Best Costume Design: Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles