Is it me, or is it HOT in here?

The recent heatwave in the UK prompted this recollection, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Back in the 1980s, the onset of scorching summer weather meant two headaches for London’s West End theatres. Firstly, ticket sales would slump as people elected to stay outside. Secondly, those that were brave enough to venture inside on those baking hot days were very good purchasers of drinks- and everything came with ice! Inevitably, on two show days, the resources of the theatres’ own ice-making machines could not keep up and it was just a matter of time before the cry went up “time to call Acorn Ice”. Their little white vans could be seen beetling around Theatreland, supplying just about every large theatre with several large glaciers-worth of the cool stuff each and every summer Saturday night.

The majority of the West End’s theatre stock was built before the advent of air conditioning. From the late 1920s, new cinemas were built with various kinds of (often rudimentary) aircon which varied in effectiveness. Theatres had to wait for aircon until the early 1990s, mainly due to their highly decorated appearance and listed status making it practically impossible to make any kind of major adjustments without impacting the “look” of the auditorium. Another issue was that West End theatres’ original designs squeezed every ounce of space out of their footprints on the most expensive land in the country, which is why you will still come across tiny toilets stuck away in odd-shaped spaces. Installing aircon in these theatres was a tricky (and costly) proposition.

Victoria Palace Theatre after renovation and aircon. Photo by Philip Vile

The kind of modification that aircon required could only take place during scheduled refurbishments which came around very infrequently, and only after a show had concluded a run and “gone dark”. Further, theatre owners were reluctant to keep theatres dark for a moment more than necessary, as in this state they brought in no earnings.

However, some theatres were luckier than others. Whilst a theatre manager in the 1980s, I was very lucky to be at the Victoria Palace – where we had an advantage.

The Victoria Palace was built in 1911 as a variety theatre (dubbed “London’s last great variety house”) and as such demanded a large capacity (1500) and a fast turnaround (for many years giving two shows nightly and three on Saturdays). Built by the doyen of theatre architects, Frank Matcham, the theatre had a number of clever design signatures which made this theatre easier to manage. As a darkened, enclosed box the heat of the day was not an issue on most days as the theatre was kept cool by simply not allowing light and heat in. However, the heat of a 1500-strong audience, combined with lights, etc , on a two show day with the mercury rising outside was quite an issue.

The “dome” within a dome that rolled off – from a pre-refurbishment photo, uncredited (apologies to the photographer)

Frank Matcham understood this, and helped all who have populated his theatres to keep cool – audiences and management both! How? Well, in the centre of the auditorium ceiling is a dome, and within that a smaller dome. But the smaller dome was rather deceptive. It was much shallower than it appeared, and was actually separate from the rest of the ceiling design. It was mounted on a large framework which was on wheels, which sat in a pair of tracks, just like a train track. This meant that on a hot day, our excellent stage crew would know what to do. Had the last people to leave the auditorium looked up, they would have seen the smaller dome moving towards the stage end to reveal – the sky!

After the magnificent renovation – the “dome” that used to roll off, now beautifully lit in blue but sadly static. Photo courtesy BuroHappold Engineeering website.

As we all know, hot air rises, so Matcham created this device to expel the hottest air. When the auditorium doors were opened to exit the first house, that rush of fresh air coming into the auditorium would effectively push through and expel the old, hot air through the hole in the ceiling. Before the house opened again, the dome would be rolled back into its original position, and audiences were none the wiser – but a lot cooler. Air conditioning was finally fully installed in the 1990s. Now superseded by a brand new aircon system (courtesy of Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s sparkling renovation of 2017), Matcham’s innovation is a brilliant piece of past history, but all of us who ran the VP will recall his ingenuity with gratitude. And also consigned to history was the sort of phone call I got to my office one Saturday afternoon when the heat and humidity set off some sharp showers outside. “Can we close the dome please? It’s raining in the front stalls!”

Time Travel Theatre – The night I met Quentin Crisp

Quentin Crisp 1940s, Photo by Angus McBean and held at the National Portrait Gallery

In remembrance of a singular figure now, sadly, fading from memory, and in celebration of LGBTQI+ Pride, I thought that you might like to hear about an evening out I had almost forty years ago.

It was a chilly Friday evening in 1981 that a friend and I approached the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane, full of anticipation and curiosity. An Evening with Quentin Crisp, the displays announced tastefully. We swept through the outer doors – into a thoroughly empty foyer. Let us remember that this was the end of a long and successful run, and an early house at that (Fridays, 6 and 8.30).

Quentin Crisp had shot to fame after John Hurt portrayed him to great acclaim on TV in a dramatised biography, The Naked Civil Servant, in 1975 and now, in his latter years he was an unexpected international celebrity, holding forth about everything under the sun in his stage show which ran, almost unchanged, for many years, across the UK and America. And now, he was back here finishing off a run in London- quietly, it seemed.

A rather subdued atmosphere hung over the theatre as we shuffled in to the early house. Seven of us in the stalls, a similar number in the dress circle. The auditorium was as cold and silent as at a wake.

The house lights dimmed and Crisp made his entrance to a hearty round of applause from the tiny throng. “Good evening”, he said. “Now before we get started, I’d like to do a little housekeeping. There’s a first time for everything…..Would you“, he said in his leisurely voice, swivelling a somewhat gnarled – but beautifully manicured – finger to the handful of people in the dress circle “…like to come down here and join us?” It was more of a requirement than an invitation, and those upstairs eagerly came and joined the handful of us in the front stalls. Crisp directed the new arrivals to their new seats, and made us into a single cosy group, and then the show began. Crisp snapped into his delivery like a seasoned pro, effortlessly slipping into the well-worn groove of his material.

He began: “I’ve been forbidden to describe this evening as a straight talk from a bent speaker. So instead, let’s say it’s like a consultation with a psychiatrist who is madder than you are.”

He proceeded to run the gamut, with advice, amusing anecdotes and shameless plugs for his book, which he would be signing in the foyer at the end of the show. After an interval, he answered written questions from the audience with his trademark dry wit and fun. And that oft-impersonated voice! A hint of a nasal drawl, like gravel mixed with glitter, was special to hear “live”. With one of the smallest audiences I have ever been with, I can say it was one of the most memorable nights in the theatre that I have ever had.

At the show’s conclusion, after a small hiatus, the man himself appeared in the foyer, with an Annapurna of paperbacks by his side, surreally out of proportion to the size of the attending group. For a moment I didn’t know if we were supposed to buy them or climb them.

I counted the group. Every single person had stayed.

He signed my book. His new Fontana paperback, entitled ‘How to Become A Virgin’. He signed everyone’s book. He was most polite, respectful and very grateful, and took time to inscribe the books clearly for each of us. And then he was gone, ushered back through the auditorium by the front of house team, who as I remember, looked unsettlingly like the gang in the 1955 Ealing film The Ladykillers.

1981. Or was it 1955? So hard to recall….

We went out into the night, warmed by the experience of having spent a couple of hours in the company of a person who had spent a lifetime standing up for who he was – although it attracted the wrong kind of attention – and won. A little part of us had changed forever; we would never forget the night that we met Quentin Crisp.

Quentin Crisp died in 1999, aged 90, having humorously decided to live for a century “with a decade off for good behaviour”. He left behind a string of books, stage appearances and media interviews. Never conveniently categorised in life or death, he remains an interesting figure for his often controversial views and his ability to turn a good one-liner, as well as his bravery in standing out and being himself. In his final writings, he came to the realisation that he was more a trans woman than a gay man, which revealed one final fascinating facet of the person we knew as Quentin Crisp.

Of the stage show, there was a sound recording made in New York in February 1979 which became a best-selling double LP (cover above) released by DRG, and the video recording below was made a little later, I think 1983/4.

I am delighted to say that I have tracked down this show on YouTube (below), so that you can take a trip back in time. Enjoy a slice of LGBTQ history! And Happy Pride!

With thanks to YouTube poster Sam Tichinoff

Anyone wanting to delve further into Mr Crisp’s doings may enjoy a visit to CRISPERANTO – All Things Quentin Crisp – here

Free Tours of London’s unique CORONET THEATRE in Notting Hill – June 29th

On Sat 29 June, as part of Kensington and Chelsea’s Arts Weekend, the Coronet Theatre is offering tours of the uniquely interesting Grade II-listed late Victorian theatre.

Opened in 1898, and designed by major West End theatre architect WGR Sprague, The Coronet is a precious survival, thankfully back in use as a live theatre. Although much decayed (now arrested), the theatre has been decked out in a charming bohemian style which befits its surviving decoration. The current 200-seat main auditorium occupies the original Dress Circle, with the original stalls area below repurposed as a large, eclectically-decorated bar area and an adjacent 90-seat studio space..

Any chance to look around this faded beauty should be seized with both hands. Tours are scheduled to last up to 20 minutes and run every half hour at 12.00 noon , 12.30pm, 1.00pm, 1.30pm and 2.00pm. The Coronet is a minute’s walk from Notting Hill Tube station.

Although you can just turn up for the tours, there is a booking option too which can be accessed via the KCAW link below.

KCAW website – Tickets and information here

Theatre website – information here

Catching Up with…….Richard Smedley, theatre historian and author of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOSEPH SMEDLEY

NEWS: Nottingham residents will be interested to know that Richard Smedley is talking about Joseph Smedley (and his book) in a free event at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on Tuesday June 18th at 1.00pm, booking is not necessary, so do go along to enjoy a fascinating lunchtime in the company of this engaging and knowledgeable speaker. Details here 

Born in Nottingham, Richard Smedley started working as a youngster backstage at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, working his way up as call boy, dresser, stagehand, stage doorkeeper, finance assistant and then Finance Director and later General Manager.

Early retirement has given Richard the chance to pursue his love of theatre history, and his research work has won the Theatre Research Society’s Kathleen Barker Prize for his book, The Life and Times of Joseph Smedley, which is a fascinating chronicle of regional theatre in the nineteenth century, and the Smedley family’s influences upon the theatrical profession.

Utilising detailed and intricate research, Richard vividly portrays the world of UK touring theatre in the first half of the nineteenth century when his namesake, Joseph Smedley was an actor and theatre manager who toured theatre shows to the people of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Rutland and further afield.  It is a time of strolling players where family played a strong role to fill many of the roles required on stage. Joseph also built his own theatres, and at his height controlled a circuit of thirty theatres. Striving to elevate the low reputation of the theatrical profession, he practised what he preached, becoming known for his honesty and fairness to all. It’s a book filled with all the colour and characters of travelling players of almost 200 years ago, and as such it’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the geographical areas covered or theatre history in general.

Thanks for talking with me, Richard, Can I first ask you what sparked the idea for the book?

When my mother and I visited the Minster town of Southwell in north Nottinghamshire  we came across a plaque on a building in the town centre identifying it as previously having been a theatre managed by Joseph Smedley. I had never heard of him, but given our shared surname and my interest in theatrical history, I decided to dig into his life, purely out of curiosity. The more I found the more interested I became, and it went from there.

How long has it taken to write?

Five years, give or take, for the research and writing; plus another year or so to polish, edit, proof and publish.

It seems that the research was very widespread. How did you approach this?

At first it was basically a scattershot approach to find material where I could. However I was fortunate in that many of his papers had been lodged in the Lincolnshire Archives in Lincoln by Joseph’s direct descendant, with whom I got in touch. Thanks to his kindness and knowledge I gained access to the original material of the copies in the Archives, and much more. Eventually, having realised that there may well be enough material to write a book, I worked out a means of telling Joseph’s story in a chronological way, and this very much steered the way in which I approached my further research. However, doing research can become quite expensive, as a lot of it meant travelling some distance. For example, I did a lot of research in Wakefield, where Joseph owned the theatre for a time; Bradford, Northallerton, London, etc. As I exist on an occupational pension, I was only able to do the research that I could afford to do in any one month. This is one of the reasons the book took so long to write. I was fortunate though, in being awarded the Kathleen Barker Prize by the Society for Theatre Research, in recognition of the value of the research I was doing, which helped to stretch my resources.

You mention that Joseph built a theatre at Sleaford. Was there a particular reason that he chose to build there? Is the theatre still standing/in use?

From his earliest days of touring, Joseph appeared in Sleaford, and he had friends there, including a man called Obbinson, whose father had acted in a small company based at Sleaford. Obbinson fils was a well-known businessman in the town, with whom Joseph entrusted his income while away on tour, i.e. rents from the hire of the theatres he had leased, and rooms hired out, etc. At some stage Joseph decided to domicile his family there, perhaps because it was more central to his touring arrangements. Joseph had financial interests in several theatres that he visited on tour, sometimes buying shares in them. The theatre at Sleaford, however, he had built entirely at his own cost, (£478) which opened in March, 1826, and another theatre in the town of March in Cambridgeshire, costing £611, which opened in October of the same year. The building in Sleaford is still standing, and is in use again as a theatre for the community, although it has in the meantime undergone several ownerships and changes of use.

You say that Joseph started out in Robertson’s theatre company and then branched out on his own. So was there a rivalry between the two?

No, I don’t believe so, in fact I think the opposite. As a member of the Robertson’s Lincoln Theatre Company and its circuit, Joseph had been popular with both audiences and fellow cast members alike. Joseph then married Melinda who seems to have been mentored by the Brunton family while at Norwich, one of whom was now married to Robertson himself. This was proven by Joseph’s and Melinda’s first child being named Melinda Brunton Smedley. It appears that they took the good wishes of the Robertson company with them when they set out on their own, and it would have been most unlike Joseph to have left with ill-feeling in any case. The dates Joseph and his company played were smaller towns and villages than those on the Lincoln circuit, and wider afield, and did not therefore affect Robertson’s business directly, although it may have had an indirect adverse effect when audiences started to drop, and the Lincoln Theatre and its circuit suffered financial reverses and Robertson was jailed for debt in 1816.

Both Robertson and Smedley staged a similar type of theatrical entertainment, and of similar quality except that Robertson was inclined to try and boost ticket sales by importing famous actors. I have no doubt that they kept in touch with each other, and I am sure that Joseph continued to visit Lincoln. Unfortunately, Joseph kept no diaries or written records to confirm this, in the way that Tate Wilkinson had; but then Joseph didn’t worry about how he would be viewed by future generations.

You also say that Joseph’s aim was to elevate the profession from its then lowly status and to do so by leading by example. This included treating people well and fairly and by building his personal reputation and “brand” as we might call it today. What in your opinion was Joseph’s most lasting legacy to the theatrical profession?

I am not sure. Certainly he did try to elevate his profession, but from the bottom rung of the ladder. Something that Irving managed 40 years later by leading from the top of his profession. We must remember that Irving started as a strolling player too, and would also have been aware of how poor a reputation his fellow players were held in the eyes of the public. That Joseph managed to build such a good reputation for quality of acting, probity, sobriety and moral rectitude amongst his company can only be met with approval.

In addition, Joseph was considered as having been successful. Yes, he suffered as others did by having the takings stolen, or got depressed at poor attendances, but he seemed to weather such storms more easily. His granddaughter also wrote of her memory of him as being “well-off”. In these matters he was perhaps no different to other managers of similar circuits in other parts of the country. But I doubt that there were many who managed two circuits totalling over 30 theatres in 5 counties, although even this is not necessarily unique. Neither was he alone in battling against Evangelistic anti-theatre rhetoric. Theatres were closing as a result of this new brand of Puritanism; Chesterfield was forced to close in 1838, Oswestry in 1850, Richmond converted to wine cellars and an auction room in 1848; but most of these were after Joseph had left the stage.

I think if anything, he should be remembered for introducing and keeping high standards of production and despite extreme opposition in varying forms, continued to entertain and attract largely agricultural and rural audiences who might have otherwise been deprived of such theatrical fare. What is also interesting is the way he, and many other managers of the time, utilised the services of his growing family to fill some of the roles in the repertoire, and it is interesting to see how they grew up. Curiously, given his own past, Joseph absolutely insisted that none of his daughters were to marry an actor!

So, you may ask, why did I write it? I can only refer to something Iain Mackintosh, theatre historian and expert on Georgian Theatre wrote: ‘if it adds to our knowledge of the theatre of the period, then it is worth it’. I hope I have succeeded in this at least.

I am sure that some of our readers may be thinking about buying your book, and would be interested to know a little more. What would you like to say to them?

I would say that if they have an interest in theatre history they might enjoy it. If they are from, or know, South Yorkshire, the area known today as Humberside, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, East Anglia, Leicestershire, or Rutland, then they may be interested in the book from a local history perspective. Throughout, I have tried to discuss the challenges that faced Joseph in his work, and the people who impacted on it, and the changes in culture that affected him, so it is also has an element of social history too, not least in relating how Friendly Societies grew, and the popularity of Freemasonry during this period.

Without giving too much away, were there any big surprises uncovered in your research?

Certainly, there are surprises, not all of them happy. I gained much pleasure whenever I discovered something new, or was able to correct an error in something, because it felt that I had moved the story on somehow. Early on, I spoke with CMP Taylor, a historian, who wrote about Joseph as part of her history of the Wakefield Theatre, and indeed wrote his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Apart from that part of her book not following a chronological timeline, which was confusing, she wrote about the Duke of Newcastle’s visit to see Joseph’s Company when at Worksop, when he paid for the whole audience at that performance to celebrate Queen Victoria’s accession. By going back and reading the Duke’s diary entries for the period, kept in the Manuscripts and Special Collections Department of Nottingham University, I was able to correct, and add to, the information contained in her book, as well as getting a first-hand account of the evening from him. A small pleasure to be sure, but nevertheless a reward for diligence.

Where can people buy the book ?

You can find it at Amazon here

You can also order it from good bookshops or from other on-line retailers:

Softcover: ISBN 978-1-912562-84-8

E-book: ISBN 978-1-912562-85-5

Thank you for talking with me, Richard, and I hope that your book continues to be a great success.

EVENT NEWS: Nottingham residents will be interested to know that Richard is talking about Joseph Smedley (and his book) in a free event at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on Tuesday June 18th at 1.00pm, booking is not necessary, so do go along to enjoy a fascinating lunchtime in the company of this engaging and knowledgeable speaker. Details here 

What’s in a name?

The majority of London theatres retain their original names, which has cemented their place in becoming popular landmarks across the decades. Occasionally, theatres will acquire new names, often prompted by new ownership. Here are some of London’s West End theatres which have lived under different names over the years since they were built, together with some of their highlights.

Noël Coward Theatre. Photo courtesy of Delfont Mackintosh website

Noël Coward (2006) / Albery (1973) / New (1903) The Noël Coward Theatre opened in 1903 as the New Theatre, seating 872, designed by leading theatre architect W G R Sprague for a group headed by Sir Charles Wyndham (Wyndham’s Theatre sits back to back with this theatre) and Mary Moore. In 1920, Noël Coward made his West End debut here, acting in his own play I’LL LEAVE IT TO YOU, his first in the West End. Lionel Bart’s OLIVER! ran here for seven years from 1960, achieving 2,618 performances. The theatre was renamed Albery in 1973 to recognise Sir Bronson Albery (Mary Moore’s son) who had managed the theatre for decades. In 2005 the theatre came under the ownership of Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, which refurbished the theatre and in 2006 renamed it the Noël Coward.

Gielgud Theatre.

Gielgud (1994) / Globe (1909) / Hicks (1906) The noted actor Seymour Hicks (later Sir) was a partner in this theatre’s construction, again designed by architect W G R Sprague, and the building was named after him in due deference when it opened in December 1906. However, he pulled out of involvement with the theatre in 1909 and it was then renamed the Globe Theatre, under the management of American impresario Charles Froman. The Globe name had become available after the previous Globe , on Newcastle Street, near the Aldwych, was demolished in 1902. In 1928 John Gielgud made the first of 15 appearances at this theatre with a short-lived comedy called HOLDING OUT THE APPLE. From 1937 until 1991 notable theatre company H. M Tennent based their operations in offices on the top floor at this theatre. The longest-running show to date at this theatre was the saucy romp THERE’S A GIRL IN MY SOUP which ran for over three years from 1966 before transferring to the Comedy where it ran for another three years. (You can see the front of house display at the time in my post about the West End in 1969, link here). David Gilmore’s DAISY PULLS IT OFF was another long run here – lasting three years from 1983. The renaming of the theatre in 1994 honoured Sir John Gielgud’s association with the theatre whilst also having the benefit of differentiating it from the newly-opened Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the South Bank. Seating just under 1,000, in 2006 the theatre was acquired by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, and refurbished to their usual very high standard in 2008.

Novello Theatre.

Novello (2005) / Strand (1913) /Whitney (1911) / Strand (1909) / Waldorf Theatre (1905) The Novello started life in 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre, one of a pair at each end of the block occupied by the Waldorf Hotel (Now the Waldorf Hilton), the other being the Aldwych Theatre, both designed by prolific W G R Sprague. Seating 1100, it was operated by the American Shubert Organisation and renamed Strand in 1909. In 1911 its name became the Whitney Theatre, before reverting to Strand in 1913. From 1971 the legendary NO SEX PLEASE – WE’RE BRITISH! ran for ten years and 6,671 performances before transferring to the Garrick (and then Duchess) to eventually complete a record-breaking 18-year run. BUDDY ran for seven years here from 1995 (after transferring from the Victoria Palace where it had run since 1989). In its centenary year it was beautifully refurbished by new owners Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, reopening in December 2005, renamed in honour of Ivor Novello, the star, composer and playwright, who lived in apartments above the theatre from 1913 to 1951. The theatre is currently home to MAMMA MIA! which has already notched up seven years here and seems likely to stay for quite some time.

Harold Pinter Theatre.

Harold Pinter (2011) / Comedy (1881) The Comedy Theatre opened in 1881 as the Royal Comedy Theatre, to designs by Thomas Verity, but by 1884 it was usually known just as The Comedy, as there was no formal permission to use the term “Royal”. The first lessee intended the place to be the home of comic opera, although this didn’t last more than a few years, and the theatre became known as a playhouse with occasional excursions into avant-garde plays and later, revues. In the 1950s the theatre was notable for innovation thanks to producer (and I am proud to say, my colleague) Anthony Field, who also managed the venue on behalf of its owner Harold Wingate. As well as creating additional revenue by building offices and ancillary spaces on top of the theatre, he crucially used the theatre to play a central role in overturning stage censorship by establishing the theatre as the New Watergate Club in 1956; This was because the Theatres Act 1843 was still in force, which required scripts to be submitted for permission by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office to be publicly performed. By running the theatre as a club and creating a “membership”, his move allowed plays that had been banned due to language or subject matter to be performed under “club” conditions. Plays produced in this way included the UK premières of Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, Robert Anderson’s TEA AND SYMPATHY and Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. The law was not revoked until 1968, but in the late 1950s there was a substantial loosening of conditions in theatre censorship, allowing the club to be dissolved and Peter Shaffer’s FIVE FINGER EXERCISE premièred to a public audience. In 2011, the current owners renamed the theatre the Harold Pinter Theatre in recognition of the playwright’s contribution to British drama. Long runs include the musical SUNNY AFTERNOON which ran for two years from 2014.

Trafalgar Studios.

Trafalgar Studios (2004) / Whitehall (1930) The Whitehall Theatre opened in 1930 to the designs of Edward A Stone, with Art Deco interiors, seating 634. During World War II it was known for revues, and later saucy striptease shows under the auspices of legendary ecdysiast Phyllis Dixey who made the theatre her home for five years. Later on the theatre became famous for the string of comedies affectionately known as “The Whitehall Farces”, starring actor-manager Brian Rix and his stock company from 1950-1966, several of these shows being televised as a Christmas treat by the BBC, which always pulled huge viewing figures. Rather out of the Theatreland area, the Whitehall struggled, housing a nude revue for five years from 1969 and then languished, mostly unused, for over a decade. Refurbishment work took place and the Whitehall reopened in 1986, once again with a rather chequered show catalogue but including some substantial runs. In 2004 the then owners, Amabassador Theatre Group, renamed the theatre, splitting the theatre horizontally to create a 380-seat main house in the old circle and underneath a 100-seat studio theatre in the previous rear stalls area. It has since survived on a diet of shows usually scheduled for 12/13 week runs. The Jamie Lloyd Company presented two very popular seasons of work there in two one-year residences in 2012-2014. Since 2016 the theatre has been owned by Trafalgar Entertainment Group. Sadly most of the Art Deco detailing has been either lost or painted over.

Shaftesbury Theatre.

Shaftesbury (1963) / New Prince’s (1911) The last theatre to have been built on Shaftesbury Avenue to date, the 1400-seat New Prince’s opened in 1911 to designs by Bertie Crewe. In the 1920s it was known for successful seasons of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, presented by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and was most usually a musical house from then onwards. EMI bought the theatre in 1962 subsequently renaming it the Shaftesbury. This was where the progressive musical HAIR enjoyed a run from 1968 of almost 2,000 performances before a section of the ceiling fell in and the theatre was closed for repair, during which time its future was in jeopardy. In 1984 the Theatre of Comedy company bought the theatre and presented many comedies here, interspersed with visiting productions. Long-runners here include HAIRSPRAY which ran three years from 2007. The theatre was internally refurbished in 2006.

Gillian Lynne Theatre.

Gillian Lynne Theatre (2018) / New London (1973) One of London’s newest theatres, the New London was built on the site of the previous Winter Garden Theatre, and opened in 1973. Designed by architect Paul Tvrtkovic and scenic designer Sean Kenny with a Germanic, ultra-modern feel to it, it was a distinct break from the traditional West End theatre stock. Seating 1,000, its longest-running hit so far has been Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical CATS which ran from 1981 to 2002, which boasted having the first few rows of the front stalls on a revolve, giving birth to that legendary advertising line “No Admission While the Auditorium is in Motion”. CATS was choreographed by Dame Gillian Lynne, who the theatre was renamed for in mid 2018, some months before her death, making her the only female non-royal person named for a West End Theatre. The building has been owned by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LW Theatre group since 1991.

All photos by Unrestricted Theatre, (taken May 2019), unless otherwise credited