Stepping into Alexander Bar feels like a trip back in time to a turn-of-the-century English pub. The space is a mix of old world and contemporary charm, with warm wood finishes, comfy armchairs, delightful rotary-dialling telephones on every table (dial 9 for the bar) and ambient jazz.
Even the sound of traffic on the periphery of hearing – a reminder of Alexander’s inner-city location – makes for a tranquil lull, especially when paired with a crisp glass of Chardonnay on this uncharacteristically warm winter’s day. This is the start to my Alexander Bar experience. But I haven’t come for the wine alone. I’m here for the theatre.
Alexander Upstairs was the brainchild of playwright Nicholas Spagnoletti, created out of his passion for theatre (you may recognise the name from his celebrated play London Road). He approached fellow writer and producer Jon Keevy to manage the project and, shortly thereafter, the theatre came into fruition, officially opening with its first performance in October 2012. The line-up includes everything from stand-up comedy to satire, drama and physical theatre.
Fellows in the theatre industry will concur – it’s a tough business. But the intimate, 44-seater Upstairs seems geared towards fostering independent talent rather than raking in the bucks: 65 to 80% of ticket sales goes directly to the artists, giving them a chance to make a viable living off their passion.
‘Alexander Upstairs is about people,’ says John Keevy. ‘Our vision is a total experience – not in an extravagant sense, but a focus on care and attention. We watch a lot of theatre and invite shows and artists that excite us. Our goal is to present a high standard of work, but it is absolutely not our role to become an arbiter of taste.’
Theatre being the truly subjective experience it is, I still feel the pair has succeeded in providing exposure to varied artists while keeping Upstairs expressively African. Judging by the diverse audience members, I have no doubt they’d agree. ‘There are more than enough barriers keeping independent performers from exhibiting their work. We want to change that,’ John concludes.
Photography Jesse Kramer