Leicester Square venue the Arts Theatre is to reopen in January under new management and with former Sound Theatre operator Mig Kimpton as its director.
Launched in 1927, the venue was originally set up as a private members’ theatre to avoid the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain. In the fifties it was run by Peter Hall and hosted the London premiere of Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot.
The central London site has been dark since July, when its then operator Martin Witts ended his lease with the building’s owner, shortly before moving to the nearby Leicester Square Theatre.
The 347-seat venue will reopen under a partnership between Dominic Madden for theatre investment group Kingdom Entertainment Group and Wimpole Theatre. Wimpole is a long-time producing partner of Mark Goucher Ltd and has recently been involved in shows including Footloose, Whipping it Up and Shout!
Managing director of Mark Goucher Ltd James Woods, who is advising Wimpole on the project, stressed that while there has been talk of a redevelopment of the site by its owner Consolidated Developments, the partnership’s focus is on what will be put on stage. He added that they have a minimum three-year lease on the building.
He told The Stage: “We’re not interested in any other area of development. Just the theatre – as an ongoing, dynamic theatre. As part of any future development, the owner fully wants to retain this place as an active theatre. Wimpole would not have entered into this lease if that were not the case.
“Wimpole Theatre are [a group of] lawyers. They won’t do any publicity for themselves and they don’t want to be named. It’s because with their client list and the nature of being lawyers, confidentiality is everything. So, they retain me to speak on their behalf. But they’re genuine theatre people. That’s why I’m excited about the Arts because it’s now going to be a dynamic theatre again and not troubled by whether it’s going to be a car park or a boutique hotel.”
No programming has yet been announced, but the space will receive a “facelift” before it opens. The front of house will be improved and a new cocktail bar will be launched. As well as serving as a receiving house – potentially for major regional companies looking to transfer shows into London – it will also produce its own work.
“Words are cheap,” added Woods. “The proof in the pudding will be what we put on in that theatre.
“Thinking back to the glory days of Waiting for Godot and Peter Hall – that’s the sort of thing that interests me. I want to put something on that people will talk about 50 years from now.”