The Ambassadors Theatre opened in 1913, designed by W. G. R. Sprague. It was built as a companion to the nearby St Martin’s Theatre, with the intention of housing smaller productions in a more intimate venue. Its location, opposite The Ivy restaurant, was considered to be ideal for the theatrical elite who frequented the renowned restaurant.
The first play to perform here, Panthea, lasted just 15 nights and the management of the theatre was taken over by Charles B. Cochran who turned the theatre’s success around with the arrival of Paris’ latest form of entertainment, the ‘intimate’ revue. Playing over 400 performances in 1914, Odds and Ends returned in 1915. Dramatic plays made their mark on the theatre in the 1920s, including a performance from Ivor Novello (in Deburau, his stage debut), the premiere of Eugene O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones, and the opportunity for Laurence Olivier to see the stage debut of his (unbeknownst to him at the time) future wife, Vivien Leigh.
The Ambassadors was the first home for England’s longest-running productions, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. The show played here from 1952 until 1973, when it transferred to its companion theatre, the St Martin’s, which is a larger house and could better meet the audience demand for tickets.
Following a change of hands in 1996 to its namesake company the Ambassador Theatre Group, the theatre was redeveloped into two small spaces and the Royal Court held a residency there until 1999 when the venue was returned to its original layout. The name was also changed to New Ambassadors and the theatre played host to more niche productions, the likes of which were normally seen in smaller fringe venues.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the name reverted to The Ambassadors and a thorough refurbishment took place. More commercial type shows began appearing again, such as the Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Little Shop of Horrors and in October of that year the theatrical sensation Stomp opened and has played there for over a decade, but it was annoucned the show would close in January 2018.
Stomp was followed up by Beginning, a new play transferring for a limited run from the National Theatre's Dorfman space. Plans have been announced by the theatre's owners to make the theatre into a space for touring companies, regional theatre and shows with limited runs to have a second life in the West End. Official plans for the theatre - tentatively named the Sondheim Theatre - are yet to by announced by Delfont Mackintosh.
The auditorium has two levels – Stalls and Dress Circle. Whilst an intimate space, there are a couple of obstacles patrons may wish to be aware of.
In the Stalls, the rake of the seating becomes obvious from Row E and is quite a sharp rake, but the last two rows are set lower than those in front. The overhang of the Dress Circle affects the view from Row M.
The Dress Circle is not affected by an overhang, but the legroom on this level is not ideal.