The UK’s first-ever purpose-built professional theatre for children will officially open its doors in December (See News, 15 Dec 2004). The £13 million Unicorn Theatre (artist image pictured), located on London’s south bank close to Tower Bridge and the Greater London Assembly offices, aims to play to over 100,000 children each year.

A host of celebrities such as Edward Fox, Jane Asher and Bill Nighy spearheaded the fundraising efforts for the new state-of-the-art facility, which includes a 340-seat main auditorium, a 120-seat studio, an education centre, a rehearsal space and a café. Construction on the building began in October 2003, after a three-year consultation between Keith Williams Architects and the Unicorn’s Young Consultants Group from the local Southwark area.

The new theatre’s first two productions – David Wood’s adaptation of Philippa Pearce novel Tom's Midnight Garden in the main house Weston Theatre and installation piece In the Box in the River Theatre studio – run from 1 December 2005 to 29 January 2006 (previews from 24 November). The inaugural season then continues through to June 2006 with: Journey to the River Sea, Yikes! and Treasure Island in the Weston; and With a Doll in Her Pocket and Play Antarctica in the River.

Ticket prices for all productions are capped at £12.50 for adults and just £8.50 for children. Further ahead, the Unicorn is planning events including poetry readings, children’s book author talks and a storytelling festival.

Founded in 1947 by Caryl Jenner, the Unicorn Theatre for Children initially performed to its audience of children, families and schools from the back of two ex-army trucks. In the late 1960s, Unicorn developed an alliance with the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden's Great Newport Street, producing children's shows in the day while at night the theatre reverted to a programme for adults. For the past four years, the Unicorn has played at numerous regional and London venues, including residencies at the Pleasance, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and the Cochrane.

Whereas other European countries - including France, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Holland - have had specifically designed theatres for children for some time, it has taken more than 50 years to set the wheels in motion for a permanent children's theatre in the UK.

In other building-related news, the Courtyard Theatre, which has its base at King’s Cross (See News, 7 Mar 2002), has set up in residence at the Covent Garden-based Theatre Museum, which has not previously been used as a regular public performance space, to present a season of plays.

The current production of Amy Evans’ Strike, written by John Finnemore and directed by Adam Barnard, continues until 9 October 2005 and is followed: by The Trial of Sir Henry Irving (11 to 30 October); Much Ado About Nothing (2 to 27 November); and Anna Toal’s The Suicide Man, based on Antonin Artaud’s Van Gogh - The Man Suicided by Society (29 November to 4 December).

- by Terri Paddock & Caroline Ansdell