Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre opened its doors in 1965 as a proud memorial to the much loved French actress who had made her home in Effingham Common, and whose warmth, humour and talent gave her an unrivalled position on the English stage for nearly fifty years.
The first Artistic Director was Laurier Lister who delighted audiences from his opening production with Ingrid Bergman and Michael Redgrave in A Month In The Country; The Cardinal of Spain featuring a powerful performance by Max Adrian; Sybil Thorndike's penultimate role as the murderess in The Viaduct; Wendy Hiller and Gladys Cooper in Somerset Maugham's The Sacred Flame; Alec Guinness's riveting scientist in Time out of Mind to A Midsummer Night's Dream which featured the complete Mendelssohn Score, especially recorded by a sixty piece orchestra.
After ten years Val May took up the reins of Artistic Director and built on this success, continuing to balance classical and popular theatre with Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen and Chekhov rubbing shoulders with Coward, Priestley, Ayckbourn and Stoppard. Thirty-four premieres were staged from mammoth musicals to distinguished modern works by Michael Frayn and Anthony Shaffer. Closer relationships were developed with West End managements. As a result, twenty-seven productions transferred during the decade, which enabled the theatre to stand on its own two feet and withstand the withdrawal of the Arts Council subsidy with the support of Guildford Borough Council and the loyal Guildford audience.
Today Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, under the Directorship of James Barber, is a busy producing and receiving house creating shows in Guildford and touring nationally with many transferring to the West End. On both the Main Stage and in the Mill Studio an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary work is staged by new, lesser-known and established writers. Ballet, opera and children's events are also staged, alongside music, comedy, contemporary dance and more experimental theatre in the Mill Studio. An annual pantomime, art exhibition and film season feature and the Youth and Education facility offers an exciting mix of activities for young people and adults all year round. Extensive catering facilities are available to suit all pockets, providing a complete night out for everyone - not just theatregoers.
The Mill Studio
The Yvonne Arnaud opened the 80 seat Mill Studio in 1993 to provide a venue for work that would not otherwise be seen in Guildford. It also forms the base for the Youth Theatre's activities. The historic Old Town Mill dates from the eighteenth century and it had previously been used as the theatre's scenery workshop. In 1997 its success was rewarded with a Lottery grant to upgrade the facilities, and since then it has continued to expand its audience and the range of productions presented. It is now a lively venue in its own right providing a great space for small-scale work by professional companies.
Since 1991 the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre has created well over 100 productions (including 60 new plays), which have toured to 80 different cities in the United Kingdom providing over 670 weeks of product for other regional theatres. More than 50 productions have transferred to London, 32 of which were new plays. Its scenery workshops, in addition to creating sets for the Yvonne Arnaud's stage, have built for Glyndebourne, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Chichester Festival Theatre and most of the country's leading commercial companies.