London's Whitehall Theatre to Be Reborn as Trafalgar Studios

News   London's Whitehall Theatre to Be Reborn as Trafalgar Studios
 
After years of being seen as one of the West End's less commercially happy venues, the Whitehall Theatre is in the process of a radical overhaul. It will, announced owners the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), reemerge at the end of May 2004 as two studio theatres under the name the Trafalgar Studios.

Tim Foster Architects is altering what was a fairly conventional 650-seat proscenium arch theatre with stalls, circle and stage into the two new spaces. The larger of the spaces will have around 400 seats (depending on the seating configuration) sweeping down, Roman amphitheatre-style, to the stage — or, alternatively, it can be arranged as seating in the round if productions require it. The smaller space will have just 100 seats and will be used exclusively to present new writing.

Speaking at an April 7 launch reception on the stage of the larger studio (with work visibly continuing around the gathered press and theatre notables), ATG boss Howard Panter announced that the 400-seater would open in May with the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Othello. That will be followed by the Young Vic's production of the musical Simply Heavenly.

Greg Doran, RSC associate and director of Othello, now playing in the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford, professed himself delighted with the new space — especially as the stage almost exactly matches the dimensions of the Swan. "When we realized that the footprint of the stage was almost exactly the same, it seemed natural to bring the show here," said Doran. "It's been very hard for us to find equivalent London spaces to the Swan, and we'll be able to do Othello with the same complicity and sense of claustrophobia as in Stratford. It's very exciting." The production stars Anthony Sher, also at the launch, and Sello Maake ka Ncube.

David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, said that during his own theatre's forthcoming closure for renovations, he will consider the Whitehall Studios as "our home in London" (though his company will, in fact, play in various venues). The Young Vic and ATG previously worked together on a co-production of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus in 2002, starring Jude Law. Simply Heavenly, in a production by Josette Bushell-Mingo, was a hit at the Young Vic, but the show's move to a venue in the heart of the West End will, hopes Lan, bring in new audiences. And, as he pointed out to Playbill On-Line during the reception, the part-pedestrianization of nearby Trafalgar Square and the building of a new bridge over the Thames at the other end of Whitehall has meant that the theatre is on a far busier thoroughfare than used to be the case (something which also applies to the nearby Playhouse Theatre which, reports Lan, has seen a corresponding surge in business).

Panter told Playbill On-Line that ticket prices at his new venue would be "£15 to £20 below the usual West End prices. It will be more affordable and it will reach out to younger audiences." It will also, he added, look for international links — he is already in talks with Dodgers in New York to arrange possible transfers to some of their venues. Panter could not yet say which shows were being lined up beyond the first two.

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