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Currently showing at the Sadler's Wells

Sadler's Wells

A guide to the Sadler's Wells theatre in London's theatreland

The present Sadler's Wells Theatre opened in Islington in 1998, although it is in a long line of theatres built there dating back to 1683. This makes the site the longest-established place of entertainment in the UK after the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which takes the laurels by five years. It is today, best known as a major performing arts venue and is recognised as one of the UK's leading dance venues and producing houses.

The theatre is located close to the major thoroughfare in Islington, within easy access of many popular restaurants and bars, making it an ideal venue if you want to enjoy pre- or post-theatre drinks. Or perhaps take advantage of one of the great lastminute.com theatre meal deals. The venue, which has a main auditorium seating 1,500 and the Lilian Bayliss Studio, which can accommodate 180, is four minutes' walk from Angel tube station. It is 12 minutes from Farringdon and 14 minutes walk from Barbican tube station.

The history

Entertainment on the site currently occupied by Sadler's Wells goes back to the construction, in the late 17th-century, of a wooden building called the Musick House. It was replaced by the first of six brick buildings in 1765 and housed many pantomimes by the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi. The 19th-century actor Edmund Kean also appeared here as a boy. A fifth theatre went up on the site after it was acquired in the 1920s by a charity set up by Lilian Baylis, who also managed the Old Vic. She championed the development of a ballet company and by 1934, Sadler's Wells theatre was being used exclusively for dance and opera.

The fifth theatre, which opened in 1931, was pulled down in 1996, and work began on the current building which opened on October 11, 1998 with a performance by the Ballet Rambert Company. The new £52 million theatre was one of the first to receive funding from the National Lottery, being awarded £42 million.

Since then it has staged a wide range of dance performances by companies including Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Espa¤a, the LA Dance Project and the Marinsky (Kirov) Ballet. It has also hosted opera including Mozart's Zaide, theatre including an all-Japanese production of Hamlet directed by Jonathan Kent. Breakin' Convention, an annual international festival of hip hop dance theatre, has been staged since 2004.

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