What’s the smallest West End theatre?
London’s 230 theatres total over 100,000 seats. There are theatres across London that seat fewer than the smallest West End theatre. The Etcetera Theatre in Camden seats just 42, with The Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town seating 60. Read all about the 10 smallest West End theatres and book tickets to see these intimate shows.
The 10 smallest West End venues
10. Garrick Theatre, 718 seats
Opening in 1889, the Garrick Theatre was named after David Garrick who appeared in Shakespeare’s works, notably Richard III. Initially, the auditorium was built to accommodate 800 seats across four levels. However, the gallery shutting has reduced the capacity to 718 seats across 3 levels. When the site was first built upon, they discovered an underground river running directly underneath. In 1934, it was nearly converted into a ‘super-cinema’ and after WWII began, it became a ‘Forces Theatre’ with the armed forces entertaining audiences during the war. Famous shows have been performed at the venue including No Sex Please, We’re British, An Inspector Calls and most recently Young Frankenstein.
9. Vaudeville Theatre, 690 seats
Mostly holding musical revues and vaudeville shows in the early days, the Vaudeville Theatre opened in 1870 and holds 690 audience members. CJ Phipps originally built it after realising there was more profit in theatre than billiards. The auditorium underwent renovations during this period, reopening in 1891. The foyer from this period still survives today. Over its history, audiences have seen shows ranging from plays to comedy including Stepping Out, The Importance of Being Earnest and Stomp.
8. Duke of York’s Theatre, 626 seats
The Duke of York’s Theatre was opened in 1892 on St Martin’s Lane. The auditorium seats 640 people across its 3 levels and is Grade II listed by English Heritage. The theatre was initially called the Trafalgar Square Theatre due to its location. In 1895, the theatre changed to the Duke of York’s in honour of the future King George V who stated ‘it is a right royal building with a theatrical tradition fit for a King.’ In 1929, the theatre was home to an agreement between the Actors Association and the Stage Guild. Between them, the formation of the Actor Union Equity was created, known commonly as Equity. More recently, productions at the Duke of York’s include Doctor Faustus, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and Ink.
7. Criterion Theatre, 581 seats
The Criterion Theatre had its first performance to a paying audience in 1874 with a revue night including An American Lady by H.J. Byron and Topseyturveydom by W.S. Gilbert. In 1902, it closed for renovations, opening again seven months later. During its history, the venue remained important in WWII, when it acted as an underground radio studio. Remaining ‘dark’ throughout the war, it broadcasted performances during the Blitz for the BBC.
6. St Martin’s Theatre, 550 seats
Opening in 1913, St Martin’s Theatre seats 550 people and was designed by W.G.R. Sprague who designed the building to pair with the Ambassador’s Theatre. The interior has been refurbished with polished wood and is the only West End building to have this. In 1974, The Mousetrap opened at the St Martin’s, transferring from the Ambassadors where it originally opened in 1952. The play is still on today and it holds the record for the longest-running show in the world. On the 18th of September 2018, The Mousetrap celebrated 27,500 performances.
5. Duchess Theatre, 494 seats
The Duchess Theatre holds 494 seats and was built in compliance with the rights of neighbours around, so other buildings were not affected by the lights. The venue is home to the world’s shortest run of a production. On 11th March 1930, a production of The Intimate Revue opened and closed on the same night! The first-night audience found the show so bad that they walked out before the show was over. Recent productions include the opening of The Play that Goes Wrong, Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story and Snoopy! The Musical. Shows also use many original mechanisms, including the curtain, the stage and parts of backstage equipment.
4. Ambassadors Theatre, 444 seats
Opening in 1913 with a production of Panthea, the first production at the Ambassadors Theatre ran for only 15 nights. In 1914, Charles Cochran led a new performance at the theatre called the ‘intimate review’, where audiences were up close to the performers. In 1996, the venue was split into two smaller performance spaces, then was restored to its original design in 1999 which was renamed as the New Ambassadors Theatre. Wanting to put on smaller shows that would not typically be seen in the West End, it has housed shows such as The Vagina Monologues and Some Explicit Polaroids. The venue changed back to its original name in 2007.
3. Fortune Theatre, 432 seats
Not to be confused with the Elizabethan playhouse also called the Fortune, work began on the Fortune Theatre in 1922. It was the first theatre built after WWI and only has 432 seats. Currently, it is the oldest public building that is designed by using concrete as the textured façade on the outside walls. During WWII, the Entertainments National Service Association would perform there. Castmembers would entertain service personnel, with a lineup including Noël Coward and Ivor Novello. After the war, the venue has hosted many productions, including Agatha Christie’s The Hollow in 1951. In 1989, The Woman in Black opened at the venue which continues to run to this day.
2. Trafalgar One at Trafalgar Studios, 380 seats
Formerly known as Whitehall Theatre until 2004, the Trafalgar Studios has 480 seats across its two performance spaces. However, only performances at Trafalgar One can be nominated for Olivier awards, whereas those in Trafalgar Two cannot. For this list, we’ve taken this into account and Trafalgar One at Trafalgar Studios comes in as the second smallest West End theatre. In 1996, the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage, praised for its original fabric and the prettiness of the auditorium. In 2003, the process began for converting to the Trafalgar Studios. Studio One opened with a production of Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company on 3rd June 2004. Trafalgar Studios has recently been home to The Maids and The Grinning Man.
1: Arts Theatre, 350 seats
The Arts Theatre takes the title of the smallest West End venue, with just 350 seats. It opened in 1927 as a members-only club which hosted unlicensed plays and experimental performances. Audiences witnessed a change in British drama with the English-language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Sir Peter Hall. There are now two rehearsal rooms and a studio space called ‘Above The Arts’ which holds 60 people. Recently, it has been home to American Idiot, Murder Ballad and A Christmas Carol with Simon Callow.