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London's West End Theatres Adelphi Theatre Aldwych Theatre Ambassadors Theatre Apollo Theatre
The Adelphi Theatre, 409 - 412 Strand, London
The Aldwych Theatre, Aldwych, London, W.C.2
The Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London
The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
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The Adelphi Theatre, which is situated on the Strand, London, has a long and involved history stretching right back to 1806. There have been four Theatres constructed on this site over the years but the fourth and present Theatre opened as the Royal Adelphi Theatre on the 3rd of December 1930 with a musical by Benn W. Levy and Lorenz Hart called "Ever Green" The Sans Pareil was sold in 1819 and renamed The Adelphi Theatre, and later became the Theatre Royal Adelphi in October 1829.
This first Adelphi Theatre was replaced in 1858 by a new Theatre, built by J. Wilson to the designs of T. H. Wyatt.
This building with a capacity of 1500 was renovated in 1879 and again in 1887 when a public house called the Hampshire Hog and the house next door, and the Nell Gwynne Tavern in Bull Inn Court were all bought by the Gattis, who had run the Theatre since 1879, in order to enlarge the Theatre.
Left - Bull Inn Court and the Nell Gwyne Tavern in 2006 - Photo M.L.
Right - The first Adelphi Theatre, London - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
They also built a new enlarged Facade and part of this can still be seen today above the current Crystal Rooms, originally the Adelphi Restaurant, next door to the present Adelphi Theatre entrance.
The Aldwych Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and constructed by Walter Wallis of Balham for Seymour Hicks in 1905. On its opening the Theatre had a stage of 31' 10" wide by 30' high and 37' deep, and an auditorium decorated in the Georgian Style with a capacity of 1,100.
The Theatre opened on Saturday the 23rd of December 1905 with a production of 'Blue Bell' which was a new rendition of 'Bluebell in Fairyland,' by Seymor Hicks and Walter Slaughter, first produced at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1901. The cast of the opening production at the Aldwych Theatre included Ellaline Terriss, Seymore Hicks, Barbara Deane, Topsy Sinden, Maudi Darrell, and Sydney Fairbrother. The audience at the opening of the Theatre were said to have been 'very appreciative'. Profits from the opening night were donated to the Queen's Fund for the unemployed.
The Theatre was constructed at the bottom corner of Drury Lane which also houses the fourth and present Theatre Royal Drury Lane which has been open since 1812, and the New London Theatre, formerly the Mogul Saloon / Middlesex Music Hall / Middlesex Theatre of Varieties and the Winter Garden Theatre.
The Aldwych Theatre was part of a vast new building consisting of the Aldwych Theatre itself, the Waldorf Hotel in the center, and at the far end, the Waldorf Theatre, now the Novello Theatre. Both Theatres were designed by W. G. R. Sprague and given identical exteriors.
Right - The Aldwych Theatre, Waldorf Hotel, and the Waldorf Theatre in 1912 - From a period postcard.
The ERA said on the Theatre's opening that:- 'Mr Sprague has not only introduced into his architectural scheme the latest improvements in theatre construction, but has also made certain departures which are all in the right direction. The decorations are in the Georgian style and the general appearance of the interior of the building is pleasing in the extreme. Handsome and ornate it certainly is, but the words that correctly describe the impression conveyed by a first glance round, are cosy and comfortable. The prevailing scheme in crimson, cream and gold and the contrast with Rose du Barri draperies and upholstery is striking and artistically effective. One of the innovations that will be greatly appreciated by the male members of the audience is a commodious 'smokers' gallery' above the entrance hall.' - The ERA, 1905.
Left - The Aldwych Theatre - From a period postcard.
Programme for 'Three Sisters' at the Aldwych Theatre which opened on Thursday 3rd May 1951.The Theatre was built as part of the Aldwych Reconstruction which began at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Four theatres were demolished when London's Aldwych, named after the Old Wych Street, was constructed. This vast operation began in the last years of the nineteenth century and was not finally completed until after the First World War. The Olympic Theatre in Wych Street and the Opera Comique in the Strand were closed in 1899, the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street shut its doors in 1902. This was followed by the closure of the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand in June of the same year.
Right - A Programme for 'Three Sisters' at the Aldwych Theatre which opened on Thursday 3rd May 1951.
The Ambassadors Theatre opened on Thursday the 5th June 1913 with a production of the play 'Panthea' by Monckton Hoffe.
The original plan was to build two Theatres side by side at roughly the same time but the outbreak of the first world war caused the building of the second Theatre, St. Martin's, to be delayed until 1916. Because the Ambassadors Theatre was constructed before the building previously on the site of the St. Martin's Theatre had been demolished, the Ambassadors Theatre itself had to be lower than originally intended so as not to interfere with the 'ancient lights' of the other building. Hence the reason that the stalls of the Ambassadors Theatre is below ground level. Both Theatres were designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague.
Right - A Programme for 'Swinging The Gate' at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1940, which was a sequel to 'The Gate Revue' of 1939.
The ERA reported on the Theatre's opening in 1913 saying:- The general scheme of decoration is Louis XVI and the colour scheme of Parma violet ivory, and dull gold is a refreshing change to the warm colours usually selected in decorative schemes. The Auditorium is arranged with a commodious stalls area, behind which is a good roomy pit, and above this level is the dress circle, and forming part of the smae tier is the family circle, or upper boxes, sufficiently raised to form another distinct circle.' - The ERA, 1913.
Right - A Seating Plan for the Ambassadors Theatre, probably 1920s
The Stage Newspaper also reported on the opening of the Ambassadors Theatre in their June 12, 1913 edition saying:- 'This new theatre, which was opened on Thursday by Mr. Durrant Swan with Panthea, a new play from the pen of Monckton Hoffe, stands at the corner of West Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, midway between Cambridge Circus on the one side and Great St. Andrew Street on the other.It is a one-tier house, decorated chiefly in white and gold, with a seating capacity of about 500, there being two rows of stalls and some dozen of pit on the ground floor, and the comparatively spacious and lofty tier above being divided into balcony stalls and upper circle.The stage is large enough to accommodate productions of the drawing-room drama, musical piece, and even romantic drama classes, the three sets, by J. A. Fraser and W. H. Davies, used for Panthea, being displayed to considerable advantage.
This fresh bijou house, which has been erected from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. W. G. R. Sprague, has for [its] proprietors, The Ambassadors Theatre, Limited, Mr. Herbert Jay being the managing director and licensee. Mr. Swan has taken the Ambassadors on a lease, and among the functionaries connected with the new house must be named the general manager, Mr. F. Rolison Littler (well known as Frank Rolison, with Martin Harvey D.C.), the stage manager, the experienced Mr. Lilford Arthur, and Mr. Mark Strong, the musical director, who has lately been on tour as composer and Conductor.'
The above text (edited) in quotes was first published in The Stage, June 12, 1913.
The world's longest running play, 'The Mousetrap' by Agatha Christie, started its run at the Ambassadors Theatre on the 25 November 1952, with Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim heading the cast, before moving to the St. Martin's Theatre next door in 1974, where it is still going strong today. In November 2012 the production celebrated its 60th year in the West End.
Left - An early Programme for 'The Mousetrap' at the Ambassadors Theatre with Richard Attenborough still in the cast, although his wife, Sheila Sim, was no longer in the play. - Click to see the Entire Programme.
In 1996 the Theatre was bought by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) who renamed the Theatre 'The New Ambassadors Theatre' in 1999. However, Sir Stephen Waley Cohen bought the Theatre in 2007 and the name was then reverted back to its original name of 'The Ambassadors Theatre'.
The Ambassadors Theatre is currently owned and run by Sir Stephen Waley Cohen, whose own website for the Theatre can be found here.
The Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London opened on the 21st of February 1901 with a production by George Lederer of 'The Belle of Bohemia', an American comedy with music, from a book by Harry B. Smith, and music by Ludwig Englander. This was not a great success however and was soon taken off.
The Theatre was originally intended to be called the Mascot Theatre but this never came to fruition.
Left - A programme for 'Veronique' at the Apollo Theatre in 1903 - Click for cast details.
The Apollo was designed by the architect Lewin Sharp and was his only complete Theatre design, although he was also the architect for major alterations to the Camberwell Palace in 1908. The Theatre was built for the owner Henry Lowenfield and constructed by Walter Wallis with an exterior designed in the Renaissance style, and an auditorium constructed on four levels with three cantilevered balconies, decorated in the Louis XIV style, although this was altered by Ernest Shaufelberg in 1932.
The original capacity of the Theatre was 893 although today the capacity is a more modest 775. The stage has a proscenium width of 9.14m (30 foot) and a depth of 8.89m (29 foot).
The Apollo was the fourth Theatre to be built on the newly constructed Shaftesbury Avenue which was completed in 1887. The first was the original Shaftesbury Theatre, which opened in 1888 and was destroyed during the second world war on the 17th of April 1941. Next to be built was the Lyric Theatre which opened in December of the same year, 1888. Next was the Royal English Opera House, later to become The Palace Theatre, this opened in 1891, and next was the Apollo in 1901.
Left - A Programme for 'Mr. Popple' at the Apollo Theatre in 1905 - Click for cast details.
Right - A Programme for 'The Stronger Sex' at the Apollo Theatre in 1907 - Click for cast details.
The opening night souvenir programme stated:- 'In the dress circle can be seen the mascot of the theatre, the original badge of the German tribe of gipsies who are connected with Mr Lowenfeld's family estate in Poland. It is a silver chain and buckle, on the buckle being a flying lizard supported dexter and sinister by lions rampant. This device is supposed to bring good luck and is reproduced in the scheme of decoration.'