As part of Clerkenwell Design Week 2012, we created a miniature portable theatre inspired by an unusually small and much-loved concert hall in the neighbourhood in the 17th century. Touring Clerkenwell throughout the run of this London festival, our Tiny Travelling Theatre injected a pop of colour to the historical streets, intriguing and delighting visitors and passers-by with sounds of performances emanating from within.
In Clerkenwell, 1678, travelling coal salesman Thomas Britton opened the ‘Small-Coal-Man’s Musick Club’: an intimate and wildly popular venue which attracted performances from first-time amateurs to seasoned professionals including George Frederic Handel. Located in his rooms above a coal shed, music from this micro concert hall spilled out onto the street, attracting and entertaining punters below.
Named the SMALL-COAL-MAN’S Tiny Travelling Theatre, our pillar-box red structure brought Britton’s concept bang up to date and made it portable, touring the streets of Clerkenwell towed by a VW Split Screen camper van. Inside the miniature venue, an audience of up to six people could enjoy a series of intimate performances, spanning theatre, comedy and music, while chain-lowered tables with ice buckets on the structure’s exterior created a café-like space for visitors to enjoy a pre- or post-performance drink in the impromptu bar.
We drew on historical accounts from Britton’s period to borrow, replicate and re-imagine some of the ad-hoc attributes of his original venue. We included a huge sound funnel on the side of the structure to serenade crowds gathered outside with sounds of the performances happening within. Opened by a circular boat handle, the stage door was framed by thick red curtains in the manner of a traditional theatre – or, another small one-to-one space, a confessional booth. And in a nod to Britton’s former profession and his own concert hall’s organ, we created a multiple-chimneyed roof with coal scuttles to allow dappled light to stream into the miniature auditorium through small circular skylights.
Sat in one of three recessed booths in the chunky chipboard walls, audience members were invited to join in with performances, taking their pick from an assortment of musical instruments and props on offer within the tiny venue.
“Thanks very much to you guys for dreaming up such a fantastic project for us. We were really pleased with how you approached the, somewhat flimsy, brief and came up with something exciting and completely relevant to Clerkenwell. As I said to you before we loved that your ethos and aesthetic was present in this project, just as we’d seen and loved in your previous work. I’m glad that you maintained that.”
Stephen Block, Former Event Manager, Clerkenwell Design Week
Clerkenwell Design Week