A small theatre with an equally small stage - the depth of the stage is only 6.25 metres. The intimate auditorium has a proscenium arched stage which suits revue style productions. The Ambassadors Theatre was built Frank Rolison Littler and Herbert Jay and, along with the St Martin's next door, where conceived as companions by their architect WGR Sprague in 1913 - although the St Martin's Theatre was delayed by some three years.
"A dainty little playhouse"
The Ambassadors Theatre opened on Thursday 5 June 1913 with Monckton Hoffe's play Panthea which had a short two week season. At the time of opening there had been a downturn in theatre attendances the previous couple of years, thus The Guardian observed that the theatre "is built in accordance with the latest ideas of theatrical architecture, decorated in a scheme of ivory, gold, and violet, and will seat - and this is the novelty - no more than five hundred people. Whatever be the chances for new large theatres nowadays, there certainly is a place for a small theatre, so much more suitable for many of the most interesting modern plays." The Times described it as "a new and dainty little playhouse."
'A new experiment in British film production' come to The Ambassadors Theatre at the end of 1920 when it was announced that immediately following the matinee performance of The White Headed Boy on Tuesday 18 December 1920, the audience would be invited to stay in their seats for about 30 minutes so they could be used as extras in the filming of the two-reeler 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia'. As several of the scenes in A Scandal in Bohemia are meant to occur in a West End theatre during the performance of a play, the producers, Stoll Picture Productions Limited, decided to use a real West End theatre, and a real West End audience - no doubt causing much excitement amongst the matinee audience as at the time British film making was still pretty much in it's early days at the time.
The following year, on Thursday 3 November 1921, Ivor Novello made his London West End stage debut here in the ensemble of Sacha Guitry's play Deburau presented in an English version by Harley Granville Barker while a few years later on Thursday 10 September 1925 the American actor Paul Robeson also made his West End debut in the lead role in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones - hailed by The Times as being "a superb performance" - it was a role he later repeated in the 1933 film version. It was also here on Wednesday 15 May 1935 that the young Vivien Leigh made here West End stage debut in Ashley Dukes' comedy The Mask of Virtue. Her performance was very well received and she signed a £50,000 film contract just days after the opening night.
By far the best known production to have played at the Ambassadors Theatre is Agatha Christie's The Moustrap which opened here on Tuesday 25 November 1952 - and stayed until Saturday 23 March 1974 when it moved next door to the St Martin's Theatre. During this time, on Friday 13 September 1957, it became the longest running non-musical play in the West End with 1,998 performances (previously held by Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit) and, on Saturday 12 April 1958, it became the longest running show in the West End with 2,239 performances (previous held by the musical Chu Chin Chow).
Other notable production that took place here include Helene Hanoff's play 84 Charing Cross Road, adapted and directed by James Roose-Evans and starring Rosemary Leach, which opened here in November 1981 and enjoyed a 16 month run. Following a run at the Barbican Pit Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Laclos' play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, adapted by Christopher Hampton, transferred here in October 1986 and stayed just under four years. Marie Jones' award-winning comedy Stones In His Pockets opened here in May 2000 before it transferred three months later to the Duke of York's Theatre where it stayed for some three years.
This theatre was used by The Royal Court Theatre from September 1996 to April 1999 to stage their 'Theatre Upstairs' studio based work while their own theatre in Sloane Square underwent major reconstruction. For this the small Ambassadors Theatre was divided into two even smaller spaces! - The Stage Space and The Circle Space. To prevent noise spillage from one to the other in this temporary configuration, performances where staggered between the two space, with performances in the larger Stage Space generally taking place first and those in the smaller Circle Space taking place later in the evening. The first Royal Court production here during this time was the World Premiere of Harold Pinter's Ashes to Ashes in the Circle Space on 19 September 1996. During this time the Royal Court Theatre also used The Duke of York's to stage their 'Main House' productions.
When the Royal Court left, the theatre's name was changed to the New Ambassadors Theatre and it operated under this new moniker for a number of years until the 'New' was finally dropped in June 2007 when the musical The Little Shop Of Horrors transferred here from the Meiner Chocolate Factory (via the Duke of York's). It was also during 2007 that Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, who already owned the adjacent St Martin's Theatre, bought this theatre.
After a run of five years at the Vaudeville Theatre, the entertainment Stomp transferred here on 4 October 2007 where it continues to play down to today. In May 2014 it was announced that Sir Cameron Mackintosh would be buying this theatre from it's current owner, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen. At the time Mackintosh said that he would be seeking permissions from the local council to remodel the building from a traditional proscenium arch theatre into a 450-seater thrust stage auditorium to be renamed the Sondheim Theatre. Interestingly this will be Mackintosh's second attempt at designing a studio theatre to be called the Sondheim Theatre after his first attempt in 2003 - which have seen the Queen's Theatre in Shaftesbury Theatre to be remodelled to include a studio based above the exiting auditorium was aborted a few years later.