Arts Theatre

A guide to the Arts Theatre in London's West End

The Arts Theatre is located in Great Newport Street, Westminster, and is the smallest commercial receiving house in the West End. It opened in 1927 as a members only venue for the performance of unlicensed plays, a move which enabled it to bypass the Lord Chamberlain's Office which censored all plays at the time.

Among the more unusual débuts at the theatre was that of the comedian Ronnie Barker in Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O'Neill's reworking of The Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. More famously it staged the English language première of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in 1955 under its director Peter Hall. More recently it has hosted The Vagina Monologues and the Pet Shop Boys’ musical Closer to Heaven.

The intimacy of the theatre and its proximity to popular restaurants and pubs make it an ideal venue for a family day out or theatre visit for two. You can enjoy pre- or post-theatre drinks, or why not take advantage of a great theatre meal deal? It’s also close to many London attractions such as Leicester Square and Covent Garden. The Arts Theatre seats 347 in a two-tier basement auditorium. It is one minute's walk from Leicester Square tube station, three minutes from Covent Garden and six from Charing Cross.

The history

The theatre opened, inauspiciously given its subsequent role as a venue for unlicensed writing, with Picnic, a revue by Herbert Farjeon. Its first important production was Young Woodley by John van Druten, staged in 1928, which later transferred to the Savoy Theatre after the lifting of the ban by the Lord Chamberlain. In later years Peter Hall joined the theatre as first assistant and then director. Apart from the première of Godot he also staged The Lesson by the Absurdist dramatist Eugene Ionesco, the first play by his to be staged in England. He also directed the London première of The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh.

In 2000 the venue was taken over by a consortium of UK and US producers for a five-year period which saw it relaunched as a West End venue with an anniversary production of Another Country by Julian Mitchell. Other productions at this time include The Vagina Monologues and the Pet Shops Boys musical. Although successful, the theatre was repeatedly faced with the threat of closure, most recently in 2006, and its future is uncertain. Recent productions include Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, A Guide to Sexual Misery, Ghost Stories, Daisy Pulls it Off, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) and The Show Girls.

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