Going to the pub is a British rite of passage, but increasingly pubs are going out of business. Those that have remained often don’t fare much better: becoming over commercialised, or over gentrified, or simply struggling to operate in a post-Covid world. Cornwall based theatre company Small Acts want to welcome you into The Fleapit for Future Pub. The staging is an impressive use of the space, and somehow it really does feel authentically pub-like, with the bar complete with Harvey’s beer pump, ready to pour audience members a small serving of the Sussex tipple.
Charming and warm
Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti are charming and warm hosts, creating a pub-like sense of camaraderie amongst strangers. The performance moves through poetry, song, and even a pub quiz, which keeps it entertaining throughout. Also interspersed are video interviews with Cornish pub-goers, recounting reasons why their local is so special to them: friendships formed, fun-filled Fridays - even the smell of stale beer gets some love.
Saturday’s performance also had BSL interpreter Lesley on hand: although there to provide interpretation, she was a lovely addition to the show, even for those without need for aid. Her signing of Boris Johnson’s speech worked particularly well.
Future Pub is good fun, but it misses the mark on tackling some of the reasons why pubs might be in decline. An increasing population of teetollers (for health, religious, and other reasons), some pubs (and locals) creating a hostile environment for diverse groups, a rise in alternative entertainment options, increasing prices and pressure on pay, long working hours, the struggle to get staff in the hospitality trade, pubs owned by large breweries and corporations, are just a few of the pressures on the pub industry. It would have been interesting to explore some of these reasons further, and try to imagine how a future pub could counteract some of these societal changes. After all, it isn’t just post-Covid cleaning regimes and ordering on an app that’s turning off the pub going public. Instead it became the celebration of a singular perspective about a certain type of pub: ones with dark corners housing sticky tables, dart boards, and open mic slots. And there’s nothing wrong with that: these pubs and the cultures they’ve created are worthy of celebration, it just feels as though they didn’t fully tackle the premise they set out to discuss.
Still, it’s a warm hearted and well intentioned show that will welcome any pub devotees with open arms. Better still, this passion and appreciation proves that it’s not quite last orders for British pubs yet.