The West End's independently owned Playhouse Theatre at Charing Cross has been purchased by American brothers Ted and Norman Tulchin who aim to transform the often overlooked venue into a major host of high-profile productions. Contracts for the sale were exchanged this week; the Tulchins will complete in the new year and officially assume ownership at the end of the Christmas season of Roald Dahl's The BFG, which opened last night and continues to 5 January 2003.

The 800-seat Playhouse will be programmed and general managed by West End producer Kevin Wallace, with whom the Tulchins (based in New York and Los Angeles) have worked on productions including Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way and the Eugene O'Brien's Irish two-hander Eden, currently at the West End's Arts Theatre.

Wallace explained to that the Tulchins "wanted to get a foothold into the industry here, and they recognised the importance of becoming a theatre owner in doing that." He said the brothers' primary interest remained in presenting high-quality productions, particularly of new writing, which they will continue to do both at the Playhouse and elsewhere. They also aim to use the venue to support smaller subsidised houses, taking options on commercial transfers of successful productions.

Built in 1882 (originally as the Royal Avenue Theatre) and reopened under its current name in 1907, the Playhouse has in the past been home to premieres including Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man and Somerset Maugham's The Letter and Home and Beauty, many in the 1920s and 1930s during the reign of legendary actress-manager Gladys Cooper. In the 1950s, the BBC took over the Playhouse, using it for the next 25 years as a radio studio for broadcasts of programmes like The Goon Show and early appearances of pop groups including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The theatre was dark for a decade from 1975.

In more recent years, the theatre has hosted seasons of the Almeida Theatre and the Peter Hall Company as well as award-winning productions such as An Inspector Calls, Boswell with Leo McKern, Acting Shakespeare with Ian McKellen, Hedda Gabler with Fiona Shaw and Thelma Holt's Tony Award-winning revival of A Doll's House.

Despite such successes, the Playhouse has proved problematic for many shows because of its out-of-the-way location on Northumberland Avenue, at the back of Charing Cross rail station. However, the recent opening of the new pedestrianised Hungerford Bridge, connecting Northumberland Avenue directly with the South Bank and the Millennium Wheel, has dramatically increased foot traffic and is driving a major refurbishment of the area.

Wallace and the Tulchins are now in negotiations for the inaugural production to relaunch the Playhouse under its new ownership. Details are expected shortly.

- by Terri Paddock