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.
The Arts Theatre seats 350 in a two-tier basement auditorium. 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 stage. The theatrical producer Norman Marshall referred to these as ‘The Other Theatre’ in his 1947 book of the same name.
The theatre opened with Picnic a revue by Herbert Farjeon, produced by Harold Scott and 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. In 1942 Alec Clunes and John Hanau took over running of the theatre, and for ten years produced a wide range of plays, winning a reputation as a 'pocket national theatre.' In 1946 Clunes teamed with author Peter Elstob to raise £20,000, which eventually put the theatre on a sound financial footing.
Ronnie Barker make his West End début at the production of Mourning Becomes Electra at the Arts Theatre in London's West End in 1955 which was directed by Sir Peter Hall, who Ronnie had worked with at the Oxford Playhouse. Barker remained a West End actor for several years, appearing in numerous plays between 1955 and 1968. These included, in 1955, two performances each night as he played a gypsy in Listen to the Wind at the Arts Theatre. In August 1955, Peter Hall, aged 24, 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 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 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 The Vagina Monologues and Closer to Heaven the Jonathan Harvey/Pet Shop Boys Musical.
In 2011, the theatre was taken over by JJ Goodman, led by Artistic Director Mig Kimpton. The Arts now operates as the West End's smallest commercial receiving house.
- Seussical Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - November 2013
- The Tailor Made Man- Faye Tozer, Mike Mcshane & Dylan Turner- Feb to Apr 2013
- Seussical Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens - December 2012
- Eve Ferret Sings Again - June 2011
- Bette and Joan - May to June 2011
- Face to Face at the Arts Series with Stephen Mangan - May 2011
- David Wood's Storytime - April 2011
- Eve Ferret Sings - March 2011
- Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie - Jan to April 2011
- A Guide to Sexual Misery - Jan to April 2011
- Saturday Night
- The Show Girls
- F**king Men
- Hotel Follies
- Catwalk Confidential
- A Christmas Carol
- Daisy Pulls It Off
- Nunsense A-Men
- Naked Boys Singing
- A Man of No Importance
- Oddsocks Present Romeo And Juliet
- Shirley Jones
- Wet Weather Cover
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
- Lillies on the Land
- The Music of the Blues Brothers - A Tribute
- Park Avenue Cat
Storm in a Flower Vase - by Anton Burge
- John Earl and Michael Sell: Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, pp. 99–100 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
- Norman Marshall, The Other Theatre, John Lehmann, London, 1947.
- J.C. and Wendy Trewin The Arts Theatre, London, 1927-1981 (1986) ISBN 0-85430-041-4
- The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, ed Phyllis Hartnoll, Oxford (1983) ISBN 0-19-211546-4
- Who's Who in the Theatre 17th edition, ed Ian Herbert, Gale (Vols 1 and 2, 1981) ISBN 0-8103-0234-9
- Official website
- Arts Theatre Programmes
- The Arts Theatre and Unicorn Theatre Archive is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.