Originally published on A Younger Theatre
I once visited a pub in Nottingham that claimed to be the oldest in England; my flatmate took me there when she was studying in the city. It dated back to 1437 and served a good cider if I recall. We sat out in the pub garden and wiled away a few hours chatting, reminiscing and generally enjoying life – isn’t that what pubs are about? This pub was around 450 years older than The Ranelagh in Bounds Green. Founded in 1861 (a fact I learnt whilst at The Real Reasons We Drink), for 155 years The Ranelagh has been a social hub of the community. It was also the venue for a one-off performance of The Reasons We Drink – a live action history of the pub, in the pub. On the face of it, the premise appeared to have been pretty successful and had attracted a crowd of locals past and present, reunited for one more night down memory lane.
Miriam Sherwood, Eleanor Harding and Annie Ward, collectively known as Travelling Tent, took to the stage to present an organic, interactive and personal history of the pub that was the focus of their community. For months they had interviewed past landlords, barmaids and punters, they had consulted with local historians and had emailed ex-residents of the community now spread across the country. The overall format of the show reflected the myriad of responses they received – some parts were on a Powerpoint presentation, some recollections were read out first-hand and others were transformed into songs and orchestrated by Will Gardner. The audience received a gift bag full of trinkets, designed to bring the memories of The Ranelagh to life in a number of imaginative guises.
The performance itself was chaotic from start to finish. The trio of narrators stumbled over their scripts, the band fumbled through the songs and the audio clips were often too quiet. But all of this enhanced the overall picture; it wasn’t meant to be polished or refined, this was an honest and humbling discovery of a community’s history. A real labour of love.
But for a large part of the show I sat there, an outsider who had never participated in any of the events at the pub that everyone seemed to be remembering with such fondness. I was detached, an observer with my nose pressed against the glass staring at the fun going on inside. Then one of The Ranelagh’s regulars took to the stage. Alex had been interviewed during the research and was asked to read out some of his responses. He spoke first about how shy he used to be, comparing his first time in the pub to walking through the swing doors of saloon from a spaghetti Western film. His shaking hands and quivering voice did more to sum up his anxiety than words ever could. When he sat down I wondered what the point of his interview was, how did this fit in with all the jollity and celebration that had come before.
But a few minutes later he stood up again and I got my answer. The history of the Ranelagh had moved on a few years and Alex was now a regular at the pub, having worked up the confidence to go back and talk to the locals: “People put too much pressure on themselves trying to find the right thing to say, instead of just something to say”. Suddenly Alex was no longer an outsider but one of the punters and all it took was a bit of self-belief. Because The Ranelagh is like every pub up and down the country– full of genuine people that are welcoming, warm and friendly to anyone who comes through the door and says hello.
This is why the production works. It emphasises not just the history of a building, but of a community. A community full of people that laugh, cry, talk, celebrate and ultimately make memories together. The pub is the vessel that facilitates it all. What are The Real Reasons We Drink? Whatever they are, the key is discovering them together.
The Real Reasons We Drink played The Ranelagh. For more information about the production, see the Travelling Tent website.