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Arts Theatre is threatened with closure and demolition
The Arts Theatre near Leicester Square is threatened with closure and demolition if a dispute between owner Gamma Investments and theatre management cannot be resolved.
The Arts’ director Edward Snape has warned that without refurbishment, he will not be able to programme beyond the theatre’s current show, which finishes at the end of July. However, the building’s owners are currently in favour of demolishing the site as part of plans to redevelop the surrounding block of property.
Speaking to The Stage, Snape said: “I don’t want to be antagonistic to the landlords, but things are coming to a head - it rains onstage, for example. You can’t operate with this uncertainty. We are in favour of a refurbishment, but demolition appears to be on the cards. My fear is that if you demolish and rebuild, you compromise what is here - a unique and intimate space.”
John Levitt, chairman of the Save London’s Theatres Campaign, said that he is deeply concerned that the West End could lose such a historic venue. He said: “We are talking to Westminster City Council and if there are any plans to demolish or make the theatre smaller, we will fight them tooth and nail.
Arts Theatre (capacity approx. 340) was built in 1927 to a design by P Morley Holder. It started as a theatre club to avoid the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain. Over the next thirty years, the Arts gained an enviable reputation by producing over 20 shows a year with an ambitious mixture of classics and new writing . Actor Manager Alec Clune made a name for himself running the theatre in the 1940’s and a young Peter Hall directed the UK premieres of Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Mourning Becomes Elektra by Eugene O’Neill and the Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh in 1955/6. Other notable plays received their UK or world premieres over the next ten years, including Pinter’s The Caretaker, Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Tennesse Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer.
The Arts was the first London home to the Royal Shakespeare Company but the venture was short-lived. From 1966 to 1988, the Unicorn Children’s Theatre was in residence, producing children’s theatre in the daytime and more ‘adult’ fare in the evenings.