Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen has acquired the 403-seat New Ambassadors from the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) for an undisclosed sum, adding it to his portfolio of two other West End theatres, next-door neighbour the St Martin’s and the Victoria Palace (home to hit musical Billy Elliot).

Following the completion of the run of Whipping It Up, Steve Thompson’s political comedy starring Richard Wilson and Robert Bathurst, which is currently booking through to June, Waley-Cohen plans to revert to the theatre’s original name, the Ambassadors. ATG added the prefix “New” in 1999 when relaunching the venue as a commercial home for new work (See News, 16 Apr 1999), although that emphasis was relatively short-lived.

“I don’t think many people ever referred to it as the New Ambassadors,” Waley-Cohen told Whatsonstage.com today. “It’s been the Ambassadors since 1913 and that seems to me the best name for it.”

Waley-Cohen also denied speculation that he would move The Mousetrap, which he produces, into the Ambassadors. The Agatha Christie whodunit, the world’s longest-running play, has been at St Martin’s since March 1974 but its original home was the Ambassadors, where it premiered in November 1952. “My policy for all of my theatres is simply to put on hit shows,” said Waley-Cohen. As for the Ambassadors specifically, “I want to have wonderful shows in there, new plays and revivals.”

The Ambassadors and the St Martin’s, were both designed by architect WGR Sprague, as companions, and built in 1913. Charles B Cochran recognised the Ambassadors lent itself perfectly to intimate revue and a period of sophisticated “miniature revues” was performed at the beginning of the First World War. After The Mousetrap’s Ambassadors run, the venue enjoyed numerous other successes, including the RSC’s hit production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in the 1980s. Since ATG took over the theatre in 1996, it has housed productions such as Mark Ravenhill's Some Explicit Polariods, Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets, Conor McPherson's Port Authority, The Vagina Monologues, David Mamet’s Boston Marriage starring Zoe Wanamaker, Peter Nichols’ A Day in the Death of Joe Egg starring Clive Owen, Victoria Hamilton and Prunella Scales, One for the Road written by and starring Harold Pinter, and The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband starring Alison Steadman and Daisy Donovan.

Rosemary Squire, joint chief executive of ATG commented today: “We are delighted that this wonderful West End venue is in Sir Stephen’s hands – one of the most reputable and successful men in the theatre industry today. We hadn’t planned to sell the venue, but the offer made good commercial sense at a time that coincides with our overseas expansion and the launch of our New York office. We wish Sir Stephen and his team every success.”

Waley-Cohen told Whatsonstage.com that he had no immediate plans to further expand his West End portfolio, but “if the right theatre comes on the market at the right prices, I shall consider it.” The impresario also previously managed the West End’s 1200-seat Savoy Theatre, which was purchased by ATG in October 2005.

- by Terri Paddock