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London's Historic Arts Theatre To Be Replaced By Restaurant/Performance Space With 'The Largest Bar in Theatreland'


London's 89-year-old Arts Theatre may be small in size, but it's rich in history. Originally a members-only club for the performance of unlicensed plays that couldn't get past the Lord Chamberlain's theatre censorship, it grew into an important risk-taking venue for plays considered unsuitable for commercial West End productions.

Most notably, the Arts Theatre is where a 24-year-old Peter Hall directed the English-language premiere of Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT, a production that prompted his famous quote, "I haven't really the foggiest idea what some of it means, but if we stop and discuss every line we'll never open."

But the Evening Standard reports that the venue's days are numbered as plans to replace the Arts Theatre with a restaurant featuring a new performance space and "the largest bar in Theatreland" have been approved.

Property developer Laurence Kirschel has won an eight-year battle with Westminster council to build an entertainment hub on the Covent Garden site, aimed at taking the "hassle factor" out of seeing a West End play.

The theatre will be demolished, save for the original building's façade, and be replaced by a complex that will include a 66-bedroom hotel with a rooftop swimming pool. The performance space will have 400 retractable seats, providing more space before and after performances.

Kirschel said the new business will allow theatregoers to enjoy a meal or drink before or after the show without having to worry about "going up and down the street" to find somewhere open.

"The concept of being able to eat before or after the show without having to rush or it being too late is important. The evening doesn't stop when the show finishes. So out-of-towners or tourists who are not members of local clubs can continue their evening."

"We are trying to address all the problems that occur with going to the theatre in central London," he continues. "And if we do it correctly, and I believe we will, we will show an example to other theatres to follow."

Iain Gillie, managing director of PW Productions, which will be the theatre's operator, says, "There's a real need for this sort of cultural space in the West End. It really doesn't exist."

Louis Hartshorn, executive director of the Arts Theatre, says, "We came to the Arts in 2008 and took over the lease in 2010 and are proud to have restored the reputation the Arts deserves. It is with a heavy heart that we leave this wonderful and historic location, especially following the recent period of creative and commercial success. The Arts is actively seeking a new home in 2017 with the support of our landlord. We look forward to confirming the new site and investing in the future of London theatre."

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