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Which is London's Smallest Theatre?

Zoe Craig
By Zoe Craig Last edited 7 months ago
Which is London's Smallest Theatre?
Inside the Arts Theatre

As with many things referring to size, the answer to the question, 'which is London's smallest theatre?' is not a simple one.

How do you define a 'theatre'? What's to stop Londonist putting on a play, for an audience of one, in one of our loos, and making a claim for the title? Except we really don't want to do that (and we're not sure anyone would come) so we decided to look at other proper, theatrical candidates, using seating capacity as the main determiner of 'size'.

Here are some contenders to the crown of London's smallest theatre.

Arts Theatre

With a capacity of approximately 350, the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street is London's smallest West End commercial receiving house. (That is, a theatre that doesn't produce its own repertoire, it's just a venue providing facilities for touring companies.)

The Arts opened in 1927 as a members-only club where you could watch unlicensed plays, avoiding theatre censorship by the Lord Chamberlain.

During a decade of success and innovative programming, in the 1940s it gained a reputation as a 'pocket national theatre'. The Arts Theatre was the location of Ronnie Barker's West End debut in 1955; and it hosted the English-language premiere of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in the same year.

Arts Theatre. Photo via Wikimedia commons

Donmar Warehouse

The converted vat room and hops warehouse, and former banana-ripening depot in Covent Garden has just 251 seats, plus space for 20 standing, and so is the West End's smallest producing house.

The name comes from the first three letters of theatrical producer Donald Albery and those of his wife's middle name Margaret: their company Donmar Productions was formed around 1953.

The Donmar Warehouse opened as a theatre in 1977; it was rebuilt in 1990 in the form its known today.

The Donmar. Photo by cormac70 in the Londonist flickrpool

Jermyn Street Theatre

Tucked away underground in a tiny space on Jermyn Street is London's smallest West End studio theatre.

Formerly the changing rooms for the staff of the Getti Restaurant (what used to be the Spaghetti House Restaurant) upstairs, the 70-seat Jermyn Street Theatre opened in 1994. Its aim is to be the West End's best studio theatre.

Puppet Theatre Barge

London's smallest marionette theatre is surely the Puppet Theatre Barge, a converted 80ft Thames lighter which is moored at Little Venice for most of the year, and at Richmond-upon-Thames for the summer months.

The Puppet Theatre Barge has 55 seats; it produces plays for both children and adults; and you can hire the whole thing for a birthday party if you so wish. Its patron is everyone's mum's favourite Python, Michael Palin.

London's Smallest Pub Theatres

The Hen & Chickens theatre bar in Islington (home to many early Mighty Boosh performances) seats 54; the currently under-threat Finborough theatre, above the Finborough Arms in Brompton seats 50; and the Etcetera theatre above the Oxford Arms in Camden, is probably the smallest, with seats for just 42.

The Finborough Theatre. Image via wikicommons

Do you agree? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below.

Last Updated 05 August 2016

Simon Harding

There is the Hope Theatre in Islington has a capacity of 50 seats - saw Nude there: basically far too cosy a theatre to see a show called "Nude" so lucky the only "nude" was in the title!

Annabel Smyth

There's a pub theatre in Landor Road, between Clapham North and Brixton, that only seats about 50 people, if that.

Mark Grimes

The Calder Bookshop Theatre on The Cut in Southwark/Waterloo has to be up there!