Soho pub to stage play amid battle over lease

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Inn on the act: The Coach & Horses will stage a play starring television actor Robert Bathurst (image: Tom Howard)
Inn on the act: The Coach & Horses will stage a play starring television actor Robert Bathurst (image: Tom Howard)

Related tags: London

A London pub will stage a play about a past patron to celebrate the site’s cultural presence as part of a campaign against Fuller’s plans to take back the lease.

First performed at the West End in 1989, the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell​ depicts an alcoholic journalist’s experience of being locked in the pub overnight.

Downton Abbey​ actor Robert Bathurst will play the titular role in a series of immersive performances next month as the venue’s leaseholder continues to rally support to retain the freehold.

Alastair Choat, licensee at Norman’s Coach & Horses reiterated his wish for pubco Fuller’s to retain the site.

He said: “By staging Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell​ in this way, we are celebrating the life and living history of one of London’s great public houses. I want to create a unique moment, that like Norman’s Coach & Horses itself, will become part of Soho legend.

“We are thrilled to have such an iconic actor involved in the play and we hope his involvement will help raise awareness of our movement to stay independent.”

A petition against the takeover has received close to 9,000 signatures since the campaign launched in January​.

Traditional boozer

Choat urged the pubco to recognise the support for the site under its present operation.

He added: “From all of Fuller’s statements, it is clear that the main concerns they have are about the condition of their freehold stock, they have a great reputation in maintaining their properties to a very high standard. The Coach & Horses is run and presented as a traditional old boozer and always has been.

“I am hoping that, through the play and the overwhelming support we have, Fuller’s will be able to see the real value of us and the Coach, and that we can work together to satisfy their needs to protect and enhance their property, while maintaining it as a traditional boozer run as an independent lease hold.

“The media and social value and support for Fuller’s to make such a bold move would be off the scale and long lasting. This would be true and real stakeholder value.”

Actor Bathurst said he jumped at the opportunity to play the titular role, which was based on a real Spectator​ journalist who drank at the pub. 

Immersive experience 

He said: “It brings Jeffrey Bernard’s journalism onto the stage, his own version of himself, not necessarily how others saw him. It’s a brilliantly funny, sour and surprisingly moving manifesto for the right of people to destroy their liver and wallet in any way they choose.

“What will it be like, padding round the Coach & Horses performing the play, trying not to tread on the audience’s toes? I look forward to it.”

A spokesperson for Fuller’s said it wanted to retain the history of the site under its managed estate.

They said: “The Coach & Horses is an amazing and historic pub in Soho and it should be one of the gems in our Managed Pubs & Hotels business. As a result, we will be making a significant financial investment in this fantastic site and bringing it back into our Managed Estate.

“The Coach & Horses will outlive us all – and we intend to play a positive part in the next chapter of the pub’s history. We have a proven track record of preserving iconic pubs – and this will be no exception.”

Performances of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell​ will begin on 7 May with a final show on 1 June.

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