The Arts Theatre, located in the heart of Theatre Land and a stone’s throw away from Leicester Square, turned 90 years’ young last week. Opening its doors in 1927, (90 years ago for those who have been paying attention) the intimate 350 seat venue with a big heart was built with the purpose of harbouring new and exciting experimental works of theatre to those subscribed to The Arts members club. As work was performed to only a few select individuals unlicensed plays would be allowed to perform at the theatre avoiding theatre censorship laws.
Fortunately for us, the members of the public, this exclusivity was lifted in 1942 when Alec Clunes took over the theatre raising its status to ‘pocket national theatre’ but would continue to create interesting and experimental work including, in 1955, the British Premiere of Samuel Beckett’s theatre changing classic ‘Waiting For Godot' directed by the great Sir Peter Hall. Which was met with great controversy, often referred to as boring… and would also run for 300 performances.
The Arts Theatre also became home to the premiere of Harold Pinter’s Caretaker in April 1960 before it transferred to the West End’s Duchess Theatre later that year. It starred the trio of Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape, Escape from New York, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as Davis, Future Tony award winner Sir Alan Bates as Mick and Peter Wood Thorpe, who also appeared in the premiere of Waiting for Godot, as Aston.
Fast forwarding to the 2000’s The Arts is the smallest commercial receiving house, and has staged some great piece of theatre in the near past including USHERS: The Front of House Musical and American Idiot, a musical adapted from Green Day’s 2004 concept album, both found home in the Arts in 2015.
Currently The Arts is showing The Wipers Times written by Nick Newman and ‘Have I got News for You’s' Ian Hislop, the charming and uplifting true story of The Wipers Times a newspaper written after the discovery of a printing press in the bombed-out town of Ypers. The play traverses the mud and mayhem of the First World War despite this the newspaper survives despite the hardships of the soldiers travelling across France from Ypres to the Somme and back again.
Catch The Wipers Times at The Arts before it closes on the 29th April, but it will be replaced with 'JUDY!'. Ray Rackham's extraordinary biographical musical about the life of iconic movie star and chanteuse Judy Garland.
There's also some very exciting announcements of what's to come, as announced last week. The Olivier Award-winning play Rotterdam is on its way, along with the critically acclaimed cult musical, The Toxic Avenger.
So here’s to the Arts Theatre! Congratulations on 90 years of incredible theatre, and let's hope for another 90 years more!
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