Work on rebuilding Hampstead Theatre - one of London's leading fringe venues - will begin next summer thanks to a £9.85 Lottery award from the Arts Council. The new theatre is expected to open sometime in 2002.

For the past 37 years, Hampstead has been housed in a cramped, unprepossessing, prefab building seating 200 on a busy thoroughfare in Swiss Cottage, a mile or so from Hampstead village. Though the location remains the same, the new purpose-built theatre will have a capacity of 325, and greatly improved bar, cafe, disabled and backstage facilities.

The present theatre will continue to function until the new one is ready which may prove to be trying for staff since it is part of a £43million redevelopment scheme that includes a park, library, housing and a sports centre.

Now Hampstead has to raise an additional £5million to cover a shortfall in building costs and ensure the future of the new premises. The money will come from fundraising initiatives and the London Arts Board.

The Arts Council award comes at a time when Hampstead's stock is unusually low. Not since Terry Johnson's comedy Dead Funny in the mid-Nineties, and more recently Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs, with Ewan Macgregor, has the theatre reaped the benefits of a West End transfer.

Recent shows You'll Be Ted And I'll Be Sylvia and Disposing Of The Body received mediocre reviews, while the latest, Moonshine by Snoo Wilson, was universally panned.

Hampstead's artistic director for the past 11 years, Jenny Topper, considered the play 'an extraordinary meditation on the state of our world.'

Ironically, in the same round of Lottery capital funding, comes news of a £1.5million award to the Almeida Theatre, Islington, for refurbishment and minor structural alterations. Though its award is a lot smaller than Hampstead's, the Almeida is enjoying far greater success in all its artistic endeavours at present.