The Arts Theatre is a theatre in Great Newport Street, in Westminster, Central London. It now operates as the West End's smallest commercial receiving house.
It opened on 20 April 1927 as a members-only club for the performance of unlicensed plays, thus avoiding theatre censorship by the Lord Chamberlain's office. It was one of a small number of committed, independent theatre companies, including the Hampstead Everyman, the Gate Theatre Studio and the Q Theatre, which took risks by producing a diverse range of new and experimental plays, or plays that were thought to be commercially non-viable on the West End. The theatrical producer Norman Marshall referred to these as ‘The Other Theatre’ in his 1947 book of the same name.
The theatre opened with a revue by Herbert Farjeon entitled Picnic, produced by Harold Scott and with music by Beverley Nichols. Its first important production was Young Woodley by John Van Druten, staged in 1928, which later transferred to the Savoy Theatre when the Lord Chamberlain's ban was lifted. In 1938 a four-week revival of the Stokes brothers' Oscar Wilde, starring Francis L. Sullivan and produced by Ronald Adam, opened on 25 October. This coincided with a Broadway production of the play.
Ronnie Barker made his West End début at the production of Mourning Becomes Electra at the Arts Theatre in 1955 which was directed by Sir Peter Hall, with whom Barker had worked at the Oxford Playhouse. Barker remained a West End actor for some years, appearing in numerous plays between 1955 and 1968. These included two performances each night as he played a gypsy in Listen to the Wind at the Arts Theatre in 1955. In August 1955, aged 24, Hall directed the English-language premiere of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot at the theatre. This was an important turning point in modern theatre for Britain. Subsequently, from 1956 to 1959, Hall ran the Arts Theatre.
According to Who's Who in the Theatre (14th and 15th editions), between April 1962 and January 1967 the Arts Theatre was known as the New Arts Theatre.
From 1967 to 1999 the Arts also became a home for the Unicorn children's theatre, under the direction of its founder Caryl Jenner who took over the lease. Meanwhile, adult performances continued in the evening, including Tom Stoppard's satirical double-bill Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land which, opening in June 1976, ran for four years at the Arts.
The theatre's lease was taken over by a consortium of UK and US producers in 2000 for a five-year period, and it was relaunched as a West End theatre with the anniversary production of Julian Mitchell's play Another Country, directed by Stephen Henry. Notable productions during this time included Closer to Heaven, the Jonathan Harvey/Pet Shop Boys musical, and The Vagina Monologues.
In 2011 the theatre was taken over by JJ Goodman and led by Artistic Director Mig Kimpton under the business management of Louis Hartshorn. The Arts now operates as the West End's smallest commercial receiving house, seating a maximum of 350 in a two-tier basement auditorium.
In 2014 Louis Hartshorn took over from Mig Kimpton as Executive Director and alongside long standing business partner Brian Hook as Producer. Expanding over an additional floor the Arts Theatre now houses two rehearsal rooms and a 60 capacity studio theatre 'Above The Arts'.
The Arts Theatre is situated in the Theatreland district of London, between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. The area is renowned for its theatrical ties and the majority of the capital’s theatre venues are located here; consequently there is a wealth of bars, restaurants and cafés in the vicinity for patrons to choose between. Covent Garden square, with its market, hubbub of street performers and high street shops, is a short walk from the Arts Theatre as is the lively nightlife of Leicester Square.
The Arts Theatre is a small venue with just two levels, the Stalls and the Circle. The main entrance has double doors and is accessible via a ramp. Discounts and concessions are available for wheelchair users for all performances. The theatre has a reputation for delivering a wide variety of new plays, readings and smaller intimate shows. The venue is divided into two levels, with only 351 seats split between the Stalls and Circle.
The Stalls exists as one block of seats, although depending on the production this can vary. Best seats in this section are towards the centre, and those seats at the extreme ends of each row should be avoided. Pillars around row G can restrict the view for those behind them, but usually these are not too obtrusive. The Circle can be used in Thrust style with two small rows on either side of the stage. The section is only 6 rows deep and so views are pretty good from all over the section.
The Stalls are not accessible to wheelchair users due to unavoidable steps, but the Circle has level access and space for one wheelchair. Transfer seating is available. There is an adapted toilet in the Circle that has level access. The bar is 19 steps down from the foyer, but drinks can be brought to patrons in their seats.
At present the theatre does not have an induction loop or infra-red system installed, although signed events and touch tours are available on occasion. Up to 2 guide dogs are welcome inside the auditorium during each performance, and a dog-sitting service is also available. Access bookings telephone line 020 7492 9930
For a calendar of current and forthcoming productions, including Scrooge, The Hi Marks and Aladdin please click here.
Location : Arts Theatre, 6 - 7 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JB
Access Line : 020 7492 9930
Tel: 020 7836 8463