A History of West End Theatres Part Two

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Following on from our first ‘History of the West End Theatre’ article which you can read HERE, we present you with part two!

Apollo Victoria Theatre

The Apollo Victoria (not to be confused with the Apollo) originally opened in 1930 as a cinema. It later became a venue for musical theatre starting with the Sound of Music in 1981. The theatre is currently showing Wicked which has been playing at the theatre for an impressive 11 years as of this year. It was actually built with two identical facades on Wilton Road and Vauxhall Bridge Road. The theatre has an art deco style nautical themed interior.

The Apollo Victoria was closed between 1940 and 1941 due to WW2 but luckily avoided damaged and reopened promptly. In the 1950s there were plans to demolish the theatre but luckily for us was saved. On May Day in 1980 Led Zeppelin rehearsed at the theatre. In 1984 the interior of the theatre had to be modified when a race track was installed which ran through the audience. This was for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express. Starlight Express ran for an even more impressive 18 years at the theatre before the theatre was restored ready for the next show. During this, 88,000 LEDs were installed making it the first theatre lit in this way. In 2016, the theatre held its first autism friendly performance of Wicked.

The theatre is currently showing Wicked – get tickets

Arts Theatre

The Arts Theatre is the West End’s smallest receiving house. This means that it only holds touring companies show and doesn’t produce any of its own. In 1927 it opened as a members only club for un-licensed plays to avoid theater censorship. It was a small theatre that took risks by airing controversial and experimental plays. This type of show was often referred to as “the other theatre”.

The theatre is currently showing I Loved Lucy – get tickets

Cambridge Theatre

The Cambridge Theatre was built in 1929 and stands out due to its triangular shape. There is a beautiful bronze interior sculpted by Anthony Gibbons Grinling. In 1950 the theatre had a refurb and the original decor was painted red. In the foyer there are naked figures in exercise poses. Until recently, shows at the Cambridge Theatre tended to have fairly short runs, separated by preiods of the theatre being empty. As of this year however, Matilda became the longest running show in West End history here.

The theatre is currently showing Matilda – get tickets

Criterion Theatre

In 1870, a competition was held for the design of a concert hall. The winner was Thomas Verity. Soon after the build started, it was decided that it should instead be made into a theatre. You can still see composers names written in the staircase from when it was intended to be a concert hall.

As the theatre was underground and lit by gas, fresh air had to be pumped into the auditorium to prevent the audience from being poisoned. A few of the early shows at the theatre didn’t go down too well and in 1875 under new management, the theatre became a comedy house. During WW2 the theatre was used by the BBC as it was underground and so acted as a safe studio. In the 80s a charity was set up to protect the theatre’s future. In recent years the theatre was home to Shakespeare and held the first round of auditions for Pop Idol.

The theatre is currently showing The Comedy About a Bank Robbery – get tickets

Dominion Theatre

Like the Apollo Victoria, the Dominion Theater originated as a cinema. It was built in 1928 and used to be a horse shoe brewery. When the theatre was built, it was linked to a building on Great Russell Street called Nederlander House. Later this building was instead used for offices but in 2011 a huge amount of money was spent on restoring this connection. Nederlander House is now home to the theatre manager’s office which was its original intention.

Charlie Chaplin visited the theatre in 1931 when his show City Lights was on at the Dominon. The theatre was temporarily closed in 1940 because of the Blitz but reopened the following year and became a musical theatre venue. The theatre later became a venue for music concerts with the likes of Dolly Parton and Bon Jovi headlining the stage. Dominion theatre has also been known for hosting the Royal Variety Performance. Recently the theatre was home to Britains Got Talent auditions and frequent charity events take place at the venue. Hillsong Church also takes place at the theatre every Sunday.

The theatre is currently showing An American in Paris – get tickets

Duchess Theatre

The Duchess is one of the smallest theatres in the West End with only 494 seats. The stalls of the theatre are built below street level to maintain legal rights referred to as the “right to lights” meaning that long standing owners of a building have the right to maintain a certain level of illumination.

The theatre is currently showing The Play That Goes Wrong – get tickets

Duke of York’s Theatre

The Duke of York was built in 1892 for Frank Wyatt and his wife. They owned the theatre until her death in 1935. Originally the theatre was called Trafalgar Square Theatre but later became the Duke of York’s in order to honour King George V. The Ambassador Theatre Group purchased the theatre in 1992. The Duke of York now acts as their London headquarters.

The theatre is currently showing Our Ladies of Perpetual Scholar – get tickets

We will be continuing this series with part three in the history of West End theatre next month. We are only around 1/4 of the way through so we have plenty more theatres to delve into the history of. I look forward to sharing what I find with you!