Arts Shuts Doors After Immodesty Closure, 16 JulDate: 1 July 2005
As feared, the West End’s Arts Theatre (pictured), the first London home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, will close indefinitely this month, still facing possible demolition (See News, 24 May 2005).
The theatre’s current show, Immodesty Blaize and Walter's Burlesque!, has posted notices for 16 July 2005, two weeks earlier than previously announced. The director of the Arts, Edward Snape, has now decided to halt any further programming and shut the doors in light of an ongoing dispute with landlords at the India-based Gamma Investments.
According to Snape, the 340-seat Arts has fallen into an advanced state of disrepair which - along with increased competition from similarly sized West End venues such as Trafalgar Studios (reconfigured from the Whitehall), the New Ambassadors and The Venue off Leicester Square – has now rendered it unprofitable and, effectively, unmanageable. Although negotiations are ongoing, Gamma has resisted funding necessary refurbishments as, in the longer term, it aims to redevelop the entire block.
Peter Longman, director of the Theatres Trust, has told Whatsonstage.com that, as the Arts isn’t a listed building, the landlord could legally “knock it down tonight”. However, Gamma is “in cloud cuckoo-land” if it thinks it could replace the Arts with a hotel or other commercial property. “It isn’t listed, but it is protected under Westminster City Council planning laws which are designed to preserve it for theatre use.” Snape worries Gamma may bypass those planning laws by including a small, underground, conference suite-style facility as part of the mooted hotel complex that may be built after the Arts’ possible demolition.
Built in 1927, the Arts started as a theatre club to avoid the Lord Chamberlain’s stage censorship. In the 1940s and 50s, a young Peter Hall directed the UK premieres of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Eugene O'Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra and Jean Anouilh’s Waltz of the Toreadors. Other notable UK or world premieres have included Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane, O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. From 1966 to 1988, following a short-lived inaugural capital venture for the RSC, the Unicorn Children’s Theatre set up residence at the Arts.
More recently, after a period of darkness and a £250,000 renovation of the front-of-house bar and café (funded by the theatre management) in 2000, the Arts became a member of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and has hosted productions including Another Country, Gagarin Way, Closer to Heaven, The Vagina Monologues, Happy Days, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Hurricane, Caroline O'Connor’s Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Bombshells, the RSC’s Tynan with Corin Redgrave, Fully Committed and Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
- by Terri Paddock