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Underbelly plans to launch 650-seat temporary theatre in West End

Victoria Embankment Gardens, the site of Underbelly's proposed 650-seat temporary theatre
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A new 650-seat temporary theatre is being planned for London’s Embankment area, with the first production set to be a revival of musical Five Guys Named Moe.

Live entertainment company Underbelly has submitted plans for a 650-seat Spiegeltent in Victoria Embankment Gardens, which is based next to the Thames.

Sent to Westminster City Council, the plans seek permission to install the structure, called Embankment Garden Theatre, between February and October in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Known for its work at the Edinburgh Fringe and for the Udderbelly Festival and London Wonderground on the South Bank, Underbelly also recently announced it will take over entertainment in Leicester Square this Christmas.

The plans follow the creation of several high-profile temporary theatres in central London, including the King’s Cross Theatre, which houses The Railway Children and In the Heights, and the Donmar Warehouse’s temporary theatre – also in King’s Cross – which is staging Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare trilogy.

The proposed theatre would be located at the Villiers Street end of the gardens, near Embankment Underground station. The theatre would connect to the existing bandstand within the gardens, which would be redecorated and house dressing rooms, a green room, set storage facilities and offices.

A new production of the Louis Jordan musical Five Guys Named Moe, produced by Underbelly Productions in association with Cameron Mackintosh, would be staged in the theatre in 2017.

The musical, which ran in the West End for six years from 1990, is also being staged by Underbelly in Edinburgh this Christmas prior to the planned London run, as announced in the company’s Christmas season earlier this month.

Dates for the production are not outlined in the plans, however they do state that a production running in the Spiegeltent would have a maximum of eight performances in any given week, and would be followed by an immersive theatre experience on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The theatre could also be used by musicians, choirs and community groups, who would usually use the bandstand for events in the summer months, the plans state.

Concerns have been voiced over the proposals as part of the application’s public comments, with some objections citing issues such as noise pollution and the theatre’s potential to diminish access to, and use of, the gardens.

Underbelly’s plans say the project would create a “high-end theatrical experience whilst remaining sensitive to the primary purpose of the gardens”, taking up less than 8% of its total area.

Despite the criticisms, Steven Levy, managing director of the nearby Charing Cross Theatre, welcomed the plans, saying the pop-up venue would benefit both the theatre industry and London tourism.

“It is the concentration and diversity of theatrical offerings that draws people to London and drives the theatre industry,” he said.

A decision on the plans is expected in October.

Underbelly did not wish to comment on the proposals, but said: ”Underbelly has submitted a planning application for a temporary theatre in Victoria Embankment Gardens. We are currently going through the consultation process and are speaking to local residents, businesses and other stakeholders.”

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