The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is an established and prestigious theatre located on the river in the centre of Guildford’s town centre. The theatre opened its doors in 1965 and was named after the much loved French actress Yvonne Arnaud whose “warmth, humour and talent gave her an unrivalled position on the English stage for nearly fifty years” and who made her home in nearby Effingham Common. The foundation stone was laid by famous actress Vanessa Redgrave who commemorated the occasion by casting her hands in concrete.

The Yvonne Arnaud is the largest and sole remaining producing theatre in Surrey. It began life in 1946 as the Guildford Theatre Company (GTC) and during the 1950’s, artistic director Bryan Bailey widened the company’s repertoire to include new works by recognised playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Eugene Ionesco, Peter Schaffer, Sean O’Casey and Samuel Becket. Unfortunately Guildford Theatre burnt down in 1963, but plans had already been drawn up for the new Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and from the start it had a strong West-End bias.

Replacing a former repertory theatre, the present complex was opened in 1965 when the company opted to dispense with traditional repertory theatre in favour of a more flexible model. Many stars have performed at the theatre over the years such as Ingrid Bergman, Michael Redgrave, Max Adrian, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Dirk Bogarde, Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington, Derek Jacobi and Zoe Wanamaker.

The first artistic director, Laurier Lister had great success and attracted many big names with Stephen Barry acting as a young assistant director in the 1960s alongside. But after ten years in charge Lister was succeeded in 1975 by Val May. Building on the previous success of the theatre, popular and classical productions were performed with Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen and Chekhov rubbing shoulders with Coward, Priestley, Ayckbourn and Stoppard. Over this period, 34 premiers were hosted and a great working relationship was formed with the West-End meaning that 27 shows transferred which helped the theatre stay afloat after the Arts Council withdrew their financial support.

Presently the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is under the directorship of James Barber and has two performance venues; the Mill Studio which covers smaller productions and the main auditorium which is well versed in the presentation of locally produced and national touring productions, including opera, ballet and pantomime. The venue hosts plays, fringe theatre, children’s theatre, youth theatre and an annual art exhibition and film season whereas its scenery workshop builds for Glyndebourne, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre. Facilities also include a top-quality restaurant and bar, a beautiful riverside terrace and exciting activities all year round for children.

James Martin