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Mark Shenton’s top 5 London theatres in need of a refurb

London's Arts Theatre
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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As much as I love going to the theatre, there are some theatres I definitely don't enjoy visiting. And in the middle of the criticisms levied against going to the theatre by the new presenters of the TV version of Front Row, Giles Coren said that one thing that could be changed to make him go more would be the seats. He has a point about some theatre seating.

Here are the five London theatres that, in my opinion, need the most urgent and immediate attention – what are yours?

1.Trafalgar Studios

Trafalgar Studios at least offers superb sightlines

Daily Mail critic Quentin Letts and I don't always see eye-to-eye on theatrical matters, but on this one thing I wholeheartedly agree. Reviewing its current attraction Apologia, he wrote:  “The Trafalgar Studios must surely be the most hideously uncomfortable theatre in London." Formerly the Whitehall, it was reconfigured into two studio spaces – a claustrophobic basement fringe theatre with bench seating on three sides, and an appalling larger house upstairs with tightly clustered seating that has no armrests, legroom or room to move, period. My husband refuses point blank to go anymore, and I would refuse to go, too, if it didn't mean missing superb shows like Apologia. But I make no apology for putting this theatre at the very top of my list of theatres at the bottom of my table of discomfort.

2. The Other Palace

The Other Palace auditorium
The Other Palace auditorium

There really is no excuse for the Other Palace – it only opened five years ago, but it has seating that is not only furiously uncomfortable, but on occasion dangerous: I've personally witnessed people taking a tumble down its steep staircases and, during the 2016 run of My Mother Said I Never Should (when the theatre was called the St James and under different management) two patrons were even hospitalised when they fell on the stairs. The trouble is that the stairs are not equally spaced, and the drop is vertiginous, so it is easy to lose your balance. And once you get to the row itself, there's an added hazard in a trough in front of every row that you could easily wedge your feet into. I hope it doesn't take a serious accident for it to be fixed.

3. Arts Theatre

Arts Theatre auditorium

This black box theatre, with its ancient, grinding seats, is probably the glummest in the West End – there's no joy at all in entering it (or its unspeakable men's loo). Yet the theatre has a venerable history: it was the theatre where Beckett's Waiting for Godot received its English language premiere. Meanwhile, its great location makes it an attractive site for younger producers to stage short runs of shows that they can technically (well, at least geographically-speaking) say have played the West End. If only it was spruced up, it could be a pleasant place to visit. But it appears to be under constant threat of redevelopment, so no major investments are being made.

 

4. King's Head Theatre

King's Head Theatre. Photo: Londonist

London's oldest established fringe pub theatre, the King's Head has announced that it is moving to brand-new premises as soon as building work is complete. The indescribably grubby, leaky old room that it currently occupies at the back of the Upper Street pub has seen some great shows over the years, but will not be missed.

5. Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead auditorium. Photo: A Younger Theatre

Perhaps the physical seating isn't the biggest problem to beset the beleaguered Hampstead Theatre, but certainly it doesn't help. I always find their seats an absolute agony (and that's before some of the plays it puts on, though actually I've also seen one of my favourite plays of the year there, too, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's Gloria).

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