Bristol comedy clubs
Located right in the heart of the city centre, the grand old dame of Bristol’s theatres regularly packs in the punters with touring West End productions. Now owned by the Ambassadors Theatre group, the Hippodrome is at its best when the jazz hands are in the air – think 'The Lion King', 'Singin’ In The Rain' and 'Barnum'. January 2015 saw a rare transfer from the National Theatre in the form of 'War Horse', following hot on the heels of 'One Man, Two Guvnors'. But there’s also opera, ballet, big-name comedians, tribute acts and large-scale children’s shows. Actors will tell you that the Hippodrome is a surprisingly intimate space, with no audience member too far from the action in the steeply sloping seats. Regular tours behind the scenes from knowledgeable theatre staff are organised and come highly recommended. One actor who cut his teeth here (albeit back stage working as a call boy) was the young Archibald Leach, who went on to find fame and fortune in America after changing his name to Cary Grant.
Somehow, the Hen & Chicken manages to be all things to all people. One of the larger venues on the North Street strip of pubs and bars, it has a surprisingly varied clientele and seems to have avoided the pitfalls associated with some local hostelries. Head down during the week, and you’ll find a mixture of “Southville set” 30 and 40-somethings, diners tucking into the expansive food menu (standard pub fare, but with higher quality burgers and pizzas), and real ale enthusiasts enticed by the bar’s changing roster of three or four guest beers – uniformly well kept – from local breweries. Head down on a weekend, and you’ll find it’s an altogether livelier proposition, with a slightly younger crowd sipping big brand lager, well-known ciders and fluorescent cocktails. Of course, with such a roomy venue – decorated in a similar fashion, with a mixture of long bench tables, plentiful metal bar stools and cozy tables for more intimate dining – there’s room for all-comers, and this is where the Hen & Chicken excels. It’s real calling card, though, is the upstairs function room, which regularly hosts live music (jazz, in particular) and improvisational theatre. Best of all are the popular Comedy Box nights, which have been running at the pub since the mid 1990s. There are sessions every Friday and Saturday night, plus regular weeknight events featuring better-known stand-ups, many of whom are regulars on the TV panel show circuit.
The red chimney of the Tobacco Factory Theatre acts as a beacon on the south Bristol skyline. Once inside, try your best to ensure your view isn’t obscured by a pillar and sit back on the brand new seats. Shows in the round are a speciality here, as are in-house productions such as a Banksy: The Room In The Elephant, which played in Edinburgh to great acclaim, and Cinderella: A Fairytale, which premiered in Bristol in 2011 and went on to receive an Olivier-nomination after transferring to London. If a theatre can single-handedly pull up an area by its bootstraps, then the Tobacco Factory is it. Bristol mayor George Ferguson’S recent implementation of resident parking zones across the city and other assorted schemes may have made him unpopular with some, but in his previous career as an architect, he had the vision to totally transform this former factory into what it is today. Visit restaurant Souk Kitchen opposite or enjoy the tapas in El Rincon, among the many businesses that might not be here were it not for the theatre’s influence on the local area.
It’s an indication of what’s good and what’s not so good in Bristol that the city’s fourth largest theatre is part of Clifton College, the prestigious boarding school. Twenty years after it was first built it in 1966, the school named the theatre after Sir Michael Redgrave, the former student who presided at its opening. The go-to theatre for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the Redgrave is also becoming well-known for its spoken word events, which are often held in conjunction with Bristol Festival of Ideas. As well as school productions, the Redgrave is now a theatre for hire, hosting many am-dram shows, as well as becoming the biggest venue yet for the Bristol Bad Film Club, screening so-bad-they’re-good movies for a dedicated and enthusiastic crowd. With a design based on the Mermaid Theatre in London, the Redgrave has the distinction of being the first purpose-built school theatre in the country.
The world-renowned Colston Hall is Bristol’s largest venue, which is reflected in the wide range of shows on offer. With a long and impressive history behind it, boasting performances from some of the biggest names in music – Louis Armstrong and The Beatles to name just a couple – it’s not surprising that this place is still Bristol’s foremost concert hall. The fact it’s run by the Bristol Music Trust (an independent organisation and registered charity), only furthers the standing as Bristol’s most forward-thinking venue. This also helps ensure that artists as diverse as Flying Lotus and The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra can be found gracing the stage for Bristol’s music aficionados. It’s not just the performances happening inside that catch the eye. The striking architecture of the original building stands alongside the recently constructed foyer space to create a striking contrast between old and new -embodying everything that Colston Hall stands for.
The Bristol Old Vic was the city’s original speakeasy. Back in ye olde Georgian times, the Theatre Royal was built without the knowledge of the authorities. To enter, you had to knock on the front door of a certain Mr Foote on King Street, behind whose house was the hidden front door of the theatre. Remarkably, within the next few years, the original 250-year-old fabric of the Old Vic will be permanently on display from King Street for the first time ever, as part of ambitious front of house redevelopment plans. History means a lot here, but that doesn’t mean the theatre is stuck in the past – far from it. With Tom ‘War Horse’ Morris at the artistic helm, who arrived here from the National in 2009, the Old Vic has seen a creative renaissance. You’re as likely to see a challenging and experimental work-in-progress piece in the studio as a rip-roaring family friendly yarn in the main auditorium. And with a thriving, young company, the future of the Old Vic is in safe hands.
The re-opening of the once popular Greenbank pub in Easton in early 2014 was good news for an area largely light on good quality community watering holes. The pub had been shut for a couple of years and there were rumours that the building was to be converted into flats. Thankfully, experienced publican James Savage – the man behind the acclaimed Zazou’s Kitchen range of eateries – decided to save it from the bulldozers. Savage has experience of spotting a gap in the market – see The Spotted Cow in Southville, a popular gastropub designed to compliment the ongoing gentrification of the area – and was wise enough to aim the re-opened Greenbank at the young professionals, “yummy mummies” and 30-somethings who’ve recently been moving to Easton in droves. Light and airy with an eclectic seating mix (think vintage wooden chairs, booths different shaped tables) and several sizeable rooms clustered around a central bar, The Greenbank is an unfussy and laidback place to socialise. The drinks menu is impressive – a good wine list and a surprising coffee range complements an excellent selection of craft beers, real ales and ciders – and there’s just enough going on to make it feel vibrant. There are sometimes DJs at weekends, but the music is kept low to encourage conversation, and the once famous upstairs function room regularly hosts art exhibitions and meetings of local community groups. If that wasn’t enough to get the juices flowing, they also have a decent – if relatively fus
Many small theatres have appeared in Bristol in recent years, but the Little Black Box has the distinction of being the smallest of the lot. Calling itself Bristol’s 'boutique community micro-theatre with a twist', LBB is well-worth discovering for shows from the quirkier and more rough-and-ready side of the theatrical spectrum. Keen am-drammers make up the majority of the productions in what’s a theatre for now, but what might one day become a shop again, having previously been a deli and greengrocers. Well-known shows such as 'Rent' are performed on a busy calendar, which also includes one-act plays written by university students and rehearsals of a community choir. Black Hole Comedy is a popular monthly comedy night. Located on Chandos Road in Redland, the theatre also has the distinction of being opposite Wilks, one of Bristol’s two Michelin-starred restaurants where, if you want to dine in style, you can find a regular pre-theatre deal.