As previously reported (See News, 27 Jul 2006), the historic Arts Theatre will reopen next month after a 16-month closure, a recent refurbishment and change of management, which sees it re-styled as an “international home of the arts”, a 340-seat Off-West End theatre positioned in the geographical heart of West End.

In addition to an eclectic programme of theatre and comedy, including afternoon and late night performances, the new-look Arts offers a private members’ club (free to those in the entertainment business), recording studios, rehearsal rooms, an art exhibition space and a basement bar.

A spokesperson told today that, as opposed to other commercial theatres, which are only opened for a few hours each night and for select matinees, the aim is “to get the Arts used all the time. The idea is that people can just drop in whenever and there will always be something going on.”

Following a media launch next Thursday (19 October 2006), the Arts’ new main-house season will officially kick off with the London premiere of Edinburgh Festival hit 2 Graves, which opens on 3 November (previews from 1 November) for a five-week run.

In Paul Sellars’ “fast, furious, funny and action-packed” modern verse drama, Bobby Topps is poised to take the crown at the 1978 World Professional Darts competition. Only now he’s dead. His son Jack sets out to avenge those he believes are responsible. Jonathan Moore stars. The production, running Tuesdays to Saturday at 7.30pm, is directed by Yvonne McDevitt and presented by Andy Jordan Productions.

The theatrical programme so far announced also features two other Edinburgh hits, The Pool (19 to 30 November) and My Polish Roots (22, 24 and 29 November), both performed in late night slots.

The season also includes comedians Reginald D Hunter, Mark Steel, Topping & Butch, Mark Thomas and Will Smith; music from Lloyd Cole, Neil Obrien, Live Nation, Nick Harper, Alvin Stardust and Rain (daughter of Richard) Pryor; children’s show Comedy Academy for Kids’ School; and live recordings of the BBC Radio 2 series Out to Lunch, hosted by comedians Russell Howard and Rob Deering.

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 WilliamsSuddenly 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), the Arts became a member of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), thereby classifying it as a West End theatre, and 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 Award-winning Bombshells, the RSC’s Tynan with Corin Redgrave, Fully Committed and Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Last July, the theatre shut its doors when then-director Edward Snape halted programming following disputes with landlords at the India-based Gamma Investments about the building’s upkeep in light of plans to redevelop the entire block as a hotel complex (See News, 1 Jul 2005).

Although the commercial redevelopment plans remain in place in the long-term, since then, the property has been sold to more amenable landlords. The new-look Arts is managed by Martin Witts and his partners at Jack in the Box Theatres Ltd, who have negotiated a five-year lease and a first option on the new theatre which must be built as part of any new complex under Westminster City Council planning laws designed to preserve the address for theatrical use.

- by Terri Paddock