We take a look at Brighton’s more celebrated public houses
No. 4: The Salisbury Arms – This Tichborne Street pub, which first opened its doors in 1889, was a licensed inn, attached to the Hassocks brewers Palgrave & Cobb. It is best known for its pub theatre, which has flourished since the early ‘70s in the upstairs function room. The theatre was the brainwave of The Sussex Players, a local amateur theatre group who persuaded the landlord that it would be a good way of selling more beer on quiet weekday nights. In 1971 none other than Bob Hoskins made his theatrical debut as Lord Peter Wimsey in Busman’s Honeymoon. Unfortunately the Sussex Players imploded in 1979 over artistic differences during a production of Toad Of Toad Hall, and the theatre was abandoned.
In 1981 a new landlord, ex-serviceman Bill Stott, took over. With a grant from the council, the old function room was transformed into a fully-working black box studio theatre. This venue became home to Simon Marigold’s New Theatre Group, a semi-professional troupe which performed a never-ending cycle of absurdist theatre classics, including One Way Pendulum and The Zoo Story. It was renamed The Simon Marigold Arts Centre.
There had always been a tension between the theatre crowd and the pub clientèle and this reached a head in 1994 with the pub’s sudden closure and the hostile takeover of Palgrave & Cobb by Whitbread. It was reopened as an Irish theme pub called Finian’s Rainbow, serving soda bread, Guinness, and with big pictures on the walls of James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, W.B. Yeats and other writers that their customers had not bothered reading. The theatre, regarded as an expensive irrelevance by the brewery, lay fallow again and fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until 2001 when the pub changed hands once more, becoming The ‘Sally’, that the studio reopened under new management – Rubicon Theatre. This exciting company were dedicated to the painstaking and slow development of new work, including David F. Renwick’s Tauber In the Tornado.
In 2010 Rubicon Theatre became artists in residence at BAE Systems. The pub was given an extensive makeover, restoring it to its appearance circa 1979, and rechristened The Salisbury Arms. The theatre was taken over by Canadian Chris Williams, who made it a centre for the development of site-specific work in the South East, opening up all of the available rooms for performance – including The Spare Room, The Broom Cupboard, The Corridor, The Office cum Ironing Room, The Airing Cupboard and The Khazi. The studio space itself remains disused.
REAL ALES: Ace of Spades,
Sir Charles Parsons, Four Crowns.
FOOD: Bangers and mash, paninis, Sunday roast.
PUB GARDEN: Roof terrace for smokers, though this is often used to mount site-specific plays, such as 2010′s The Smokers.