The latest in a long line of the 340-seat theatre’s leaseholders, Brasrat Ltd, took over in November 2008. They were granted a three-year lease but - given the landlord Consolidated St Giles LLP’s long-term plans to redevelop the entire site as a hotel and commercial complex - with the insertion of a three-month break clause.
Consolidated has now exercised that break clause and served notice to terminate the lease. According to Brasrat, who are seeking legal advice, they’ve done so without any prior warning or due cause. Consolidated claims that Brasrat has failed to pay their full rent and insurance and, as a consequence, they’ve been prompted by their bank to get in new tenants in the belief that the Arts has been dark since May and is no longer being run as a theatre. Brasrat maintains they’ve paid the agreed rent and that the programming situation is inaccurate.
This past April, a change of theatre management, in which End of Pier Productions Ltd (EOP) were appointed by Brasrat to operate and programme the Arts, coincided with the early closure of Wet Weather Cover. Since then, the theatre has hosted a six-week season for Lilies of the Land in June and July, and the just launched weekends-only dates for A Guide to Sexual Misery.
Further ahead, there’s EOP’s long-planned, second annual Christmas show Puss in Boots, scheduled for 17 November 2010 to 9 January 2011, and tickets have also gone on sale for previous Edinburgh Fringe hit Woody Sez from 13 January to 2 April 2011. Neither will go ahead if the notice stands, says EOP and, with Puss in Boots alone, some 30 jobs will be put at risk.
EOP says it’s already in negotiations to receive further productions and feels “confident the theatre will continue to be fully booked from April 2011” if they’re allowed to remain in business. In preparation, there’s been a staff restructure and plans to appoint an artistic director, refurbish and roll out a more robust schedule of events and day hires in addition to full-scale productions.
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.
In 2000, 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, over the next five years, 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.
Since 2005, when producer/manager Edward Snape stopped running the venue after a dispute with the then-landlord, there have been two further changes of management at the Arts, with successive announcements of forward-thinking plans for the venue ultimately failing to materialise and the spectre of the block redevelopment still looming, finance permitting.
If and when the estimated £20 million hotel property project does go ahead, Westminster City Council has dictated that the address of the Arts itself must be preserved for theatrical use. Consolidated’s Laurence Krischel has said he envisages this will be a 317-seat state-of-the-art theatre and conference facility with hydraulically retractable seats and an open-plan space. Building was originally due to commence in January 2009 and be completed by January 2011.