Interview: November 2011
Middleton client, John Keevill talks La Bohème, Islington pubs and ‘stuffy finance companies’.
John Keevill hasn’t fully forsaken the comforts of Covent Garden, where he has watched opera since 1975. But to listen to him enthuse about the ‘visceral’ impact of a performance of La Bohème at the King’s Head – a 120-seat theatre in the back of a pub in Islington is a bit like hearing of a rugby supporter tiring of Twickenham, who finds himself back at his old club getting his feet muddy and his larynx lubricated.
Personal enthusiasm for something quirky and low-profile is one thing, however, but applying this to the world of corporate sponsorship requires imagination and a leap of faith. John Keevill’s company is Tower Leasing, which he founded in 1989. He describes the business as ‘stuffy finance’, and Tower’s support of the King’s Head Theatre Company as ‘an antidote to the tame and obvious
“This isn’t sponsorship in the modern sense,” says John. “We aren’t going to be plastering our logo all over the actors’ outfits, and asking the theatre to produce something which matches our corporate values.”
“Part of the benefit for us is recognising that there is more to life than just finance. These are people who are working just as hard as us, with genuine creativity and resilience, and their reward is applause and fulfilment. When you support and become involved in this type of enterprise some of their risk-taking, energy and enthusiasm rubs off.”
“An opera at the Royal Opera House is a great spectacle,” says John. “But a production in this environment is visceral. Sometimes the theatre and the bar area virtually inter-mingle. You can be having a drink between acts, and suddenly find that the music has started up around you.”
“And let’s not down-play it too much. What people are actually getting at the King’s Head Theatre is a glimpse of the next Peter Halls, Jonathan Millers and Tom Stoppards. Ben Cooper has gone on to become touring manager for the Young Vic at the age of 26. Adam Spreadbury-Maher has written a new version of Tosca for Malmö Opera, which he will direct on a tour of 20 venues.”
“We started off by buying a baby grand piano for the production company,” says John. “In 2012 we’ll be co-producing Carmen. We’ll take our staff, clients, partners to watch, and I know from past experience that they will entranced by the whole thing. Everyone comes out of these productions smiling.”
“I’d happily encourage other organisations to get involved in this type of activity. It may appear primarily philanthropic, but there are genuine commercial benefits as well.”