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‘Wise and wondrous stuff’ Times
The Unicorn Theatre was founded by Caryl Jenner as a touring company in 1947 with a commitment to giving children a valuable and often first ever experience of quality theatre, and a philosophy that 'the best of theatre for children should be judged on the same high standards of writing, directing, acting and design as the best of adult theatre'.
Today, the Unicorn is the UK's leading professional theatre for young audiences, dedicated to inspiring and invigorating young people of all ages, perspectives and abilities, and empowering them to explore the world – on their own terms – through theatre.
We strive to push the boundaries of imagination in everything that we do; welcoming families, schools, and young people for unforgettable theatrical experiences that will expand horizons, change perspectives, and challenge how we all see and understand each other.
Our purpose built home at London Bridge contains two theatres, four floors of public spaces and two rehearsal studios; allowing us to work with some of the world’s most exciting theatre-makers to produce, present and tour a surprising, innovative and broad range of work that is honest, refreshing and international in outlook.
We serve over 60,000 children and their parents and carers every year through our extensive programme of work both on and offstage - we hope that you're one of them!
‘Simply but ingeniously presented…holding everyone, young and old alike, quite spellbound. An utter delight’ Telegraph
The Unicorn is a registered charity no.225751 and is an Arts Council England National Portfolio organisation.
Caryl Jenner set up the Mobile Theatre on Boxing Day 1947. A three-ton second-hand civil defence van was used to move actors, props and scenery around the country, taking plays into schools and out to children in isolated communities all over Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. Adult productions were shown in the evenings and during school holidays.
The company now toured the UK, and due to increased demand bought a second van, allowing two groups of actors to tour at the same time. The company also changed its name to The Caryl Jenner Mobile Theatre.
More funding meant that another van could be purchased, and a third group could go out on the road. The press were becoming more and more excited by the Mobile Theatre, and its shows were getting great reviews.
One of the groups began to do shows exclusively for children, leaving the other two vans to continue producing plays for adults in the evenings. The children's van was renamed the English Children's Theatre.
Caryl Jenner launched an appeal for £500,000 to create an English Theatre for Children with a permanent theatre building in London.
The English Children's Theatre produced its first season at the Arts Theatre in central London.
The adult Mobile Theatre finally closed, and the children's company began to perform its shows every weekend at the Arts Theatre. The name of the children's company changed from the English Children's Theatre to the Unicorn Theatre Club for Children. Caryl Jenner's reason for choosing the name Unicorn; “because he is an exciting figure of legend, a thing intangible and uncatchable; he exists only if you believe in him and we feel this is a stimulating idea for children.”
Unicorn was invited to tour to other theatres, and formed the Provincial Theatres Touring Company in order to be able to send productions around the country whilst at the same time producing shows at the Arts Theatre in London.
Unicorn took over the lease for the Arts Theatre, making it the first theatre building for children in the UK. The box office counter was lowered to let children to see over, and the auditorium was redesigned to make it easier for them to see the stage. Shows for adults were performed in the evenings.
Caryl Jenner announced that she planned to build a purpose-designed theatre for children in the heart of London.
Caryl Jenner died on 29th January, aged just fifty-five years old.
Caryl's assistant, Matyelok Gibbs took over as Unicorn's Artistic Director.
The company began talks with Southwark Council to acquire a site for a purpose-built theatre for children next to Blackfriars Bridge.
Planning permission for the new building was granted, and the Arts Council and Southwark Council both pledged funding. However, the Greater London Council refused a funding application from the company, and plans for the new theatre had to be put on hold.
Matyelok Gibbs left Unicorn to further her acting career, and Nick Barter took over as Artistic Director.
Plans changed and the new building idea was shelved as a result. Luckily Unicorn won the lease to stay at the Arts Theatre for the next 20 years. The company celebrated its thirtieth birthday with a parade through the streets of London with hundreds of children dressed as unicorns.
Unicorn's most performed show started life this year, with Maureen Lipman in the title role as Meg in “The Meg and Mog Show”. Later revivals starred Sarah Greene and Amanda Barrie.
Work began on refurbishing the auditorium of the Arts Theatre, and a fundraising campaign swung into action. The theatre re-opened later that year.
Nick Barter left Unicorn, and the role of Artistic Director was taken on by Chris Wallis. The freehold of the Arts Theatre was sold to a developer, and Unicorn was assured that if the developer wanted to work on the building, a new theatre would be provided for the company.
Following the departure of Chris Wallis, Richard Williams became Unicorn's new Artistic Director.
The deal struck between Unicorn and the developers of the Arts Theatre came to an end, and negotiations began to work out what would happen next. Building work began to turn the theatre from a theatre club into licensed theatre premises.
The National Lottery awarded Unicorn £98,000 towards the building work which would allow Unicorn to remain at the Arts Theatre.
Richard Williams left Unicorn, and Tony Graham arrived as the new Artistic Director as the company celebrated its 50th birthday.
Unicorn finally moved out of the Arts Theatre. Company staff took up offices in north London, and shows were performed in a variety of theatres. A site for a new purpose-designed theatre for children was found on the prestigious More London site on Tooley Street.
Keith Williams Architects won the commission to design the new Unicorn Theatre, and the following year the Arts Council awarded the project £4.5 million.
Unicorn hosted a star-studded event to celebrate the start of work on the new building.
The ground on the site was broken by Tony Graham and actress Emily Mortimer.
Other notables in attendance were Philip Pullman, Greg Wise, Andrew Logan, Phyllida Law, Simon Hughes MP, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Allesandro Nivola and Hugo Speer.
Caryl Jenner's dream was realised and THe UNicorn opened the doors of its new building.