The West End’s newest venue officially launches tonight (3 April 2004) with the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stratford-upon-Avon transfer of Othello (See News 7 Apr & 2 Apr 2004).

The Trafalgar Studios, owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), comprises a 380-seat and a 100-seat performance space, both carved out of the former 650-seat Whitehall Theatre. While common in the subsidised sector, the remodelled building marks the first time that two such studios will exist beneath one roof in the commercial West End.

Seen earlier this year at Stratford’s Swan Theatre, Othello inaugurates the larger Studio 1. Prior to tonight’s opening, Gregory Doran’s 400th anniversary production, which stars fellow South Africans Sello Maake ka Ncube and Antony Sher as Othello and Iago, extended its limited London season by a fortnight up to 17 July (See News, 14 May 2004).

Though exact dates are yet to be confirmed, the Young Vic’s 2003 revival of Langston Hughes musical Simply Heavenly is scheduled to move into Studio 1 in September, when Studio 2 is also due to open.

Further programming has not yet been announced, but the smaller space is intended to be dedicated to new work while the larger is geared towards receiving transfers from subsidised venues such as the Royal Court, the National’s Cottesloe and the Sheffield Crucible studio, in addition to the Young Vic and the RSC’s Swan. Trafalgar Studios ticket prices will be targeted 15 to 30 percent below the West End average in a bid to attract new and younger audiences.

ATG’s launch of Trafalgar Studios precedes fellow theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh’s planned construction of the 500-seat Sondheim Theatre, part of a £20 million redevelopment of the Shaftesbury Avenue block between the existing Queen’s and Gielgud Theatres (See News, 25 Jun 2003). That new theatre, expected to open in 2006, will also be geared towards accommodating extended runs of musicals and plays originated in the subsidised sector.

Opened in 1930, the art deco-style Whitehall had an historic past, once home to the famous Whitehall Farces while under the management of Brian Rix. ATG acquired the theatre in 2000 and, during a review of its many West End properties last summer, closed it indefinitely, laying off six staff in the process (See News, 26 Jun 2003). That autumn, the transfer of Rat Pack Confidential seemed to signal a renewed lease of life, but the show closed in November after which the Whitehall remained dark until its relaunch now as Trafalgar Studios (See News, 30 Oct 2003).

As part of the alterations to the building, undertaken by Tim Foster Architects, front of house areas and technical facilities at the new venue have also been improved.

- by Terri Paddock