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Adapted from an old building, the Arts Theatre opened initially as a private members-only club in 1927 to avoid theatre censorship. The theatre produced controversial (and sometimes banned) plays; ironically, quite a few productions in its later history went on to have longer runs in bigger West End theatres once the censorship law was dropped.
After a few quiet years, it went through a renaissance in the 1940s under new management, with over a hundred plays put on in a decade, becoming affectionately known as a ‘pocket National Theatre’. Since then, two of its most successful productions have been well-known plays – The Arts staged the first British production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The venue was briefly known as the ‘New Arts’ Theatre from 1962 to 1967.
For much of the second half of the 20th century, the Arts Theatre doubled as a children’s theatre venue during the day with regular plays put on in the evening. Taken over in 2000 by a new set of producers, it was rebranded as a West End theatre and continues to put on small-scale productions in a cosy atmosphere to this day.
The Arts Theatre is currently home to Six, nominated for five Olivier Awards in 2019.