Gielgud Theatre

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Gielgud Theatre
Gielgud Theatre, London.jpg
Gielgud Theatre in 2011
Address Shaftesbury Avenue
London, W1
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°30′42″N00°07′59″W / 51.51167°N 0.13306°W / 51.51167; -0.13306 Coordinates: 51°30′42″N00°07′59″W / 51.51167°N 0.13306°W / 51.51167; -0.13306
Public transit Underground no-text.svg Leicester Square; Piccadilly Circus
Owner Delfont Mackintosh Theatres
Designation Grade II [1]
TypeWest End theatre
Capacity 986 on three levels
Opened27 December 1906;112 years ago (1906-12-27)
Architect W. G. R. Sprague
Gielgud Theatre website at Delfont Mackintosh Theatres

The Gielgud Theatre is a West End theatre, located on Shaftesbury Avenue in the City of Westminster, London, at the corner of Rupert Street. The house currently has 986 seats on three levels.

Shaftesbury Avenue major street in the West End of London

Shaftesbury Avenue is a major street in the West End of London, named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. It runs north-easterly from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street, crossing Charing Cross Road at Cambridge Circus. From Piccadilly Circus to Cambridge Circus, it is in the City of Westminster, and from Cambridge Circus to New Oxford Street, it is in the London Borough of Camden.

City of Westminster City and borough in London

The City of Westminster is an Inner London borough that also holds city status. It occupies much of the central area of Greater London including most of the West End. Historically in Middlesex, it is to the west of the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary is the River Thames. The London borough was created with the 1965 establishment of Greater London. Upon its creation, it inherited the city status previously held by the smaller Metropolitan Borough of Westminster from 1900, which was first awarded to Westminster in 1540.


The theatre was designed by W. G. R. Sprague and opened on 27 December 1906 as the Hicks Theatre, named after Seymour Hicks, for whom it was built. The first play at the theatre was a hit musical called The Beauty of Bath co-written by Hicks. Another big success was A Waltz Dream in 1908. In 1909, the American impresario Charles Frohman became manager of the theatre and renamed the house the Globe Theatre – a name that it retained for 85 years. Call It a Day opened in 1935 and ran for 509 performances, a long run for the slow inter-war years. There's a Girl in My Soup , opening in 1966, ran for almost three years, a record for the theatre that was not surpassed until Daisy Pulls It Off opened in April 1983 to run for 1,180 performances.

W. G. R. Sprague Australian architect, mainly known for theatres and cinemas

William George Robert Sprague was a theatre architect.

Seymour Hicks British actor

Sir Edward Seymour Hicks, better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, actor-manager and producer. He became known, early in his career, for writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedy, often together with his famous wife, Ellaline Terriss. His most famous acting role was that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

<i>The Beauty of Bath</i> musical

The Beauty of Bath is a musical comedy with a book by Seymour Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, lyrics by C. H. Taylor and music by Herbert Haines; additional songs were provided by Jerome Kern, F. Clifford Harris (lyrics) and P. G. Wodehouse (lyrics). Based loosely on the play David Garrick, the story concerns a young woman from a noble family, who falls in love with an actor. She then meets a sailor who appears identical to the actor and mistakes him for the latter. Her father objects to a marriage with the actor, but when it turns out that she really loves the sailor, all objections fall away.

Refurbished in 1987, the theatre has since presented several Alan Ayckbourn premieres, including Man of the Moment (1990), as well as a notable revival of An Ideal Husband in 1992. During reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe theatre on the South Bank, in 1994 the theatre was renamed the Gielgud Theatre in honour of John Gielgud. Another refurbishment was completed in 2008.

Alan Ayckbourn English playwright

Sir Alan Ayckbourn, is a prolific British playwright and director. He has written and produced more than seventy full-length plays in Scarborough and London and was, between 1972 and 2009, the artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where all but four of his plays have received their first performance. More than 40 have subsequently been produced in the West End, at the Royal National Theatre or by the Royal Shakespeare Company since his first hit Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1969.

<i>Man of the Moment</i> (play) 1990 play by Alan Ayckbourn

Man of the Moment is a play by the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. It was premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough on 10 August 1988 and transferred to the Globe Theatre in the West End on 14 February 1990.

<i>An Ideal Husband</i> play by Oscar Wilde

An Ideal Husband is an 1895 comedic stage play by Oscar Wilde which revolves around blackmail and political corruption, and touches on the themes of public and private honour. The action is set in London, in "the present", and takes place over the course of twenty-four hours.

The Globe's theatre cat, Beerbohm, became famous enough to receive a front-page obituary in the theatrical publication The Stage in 1995.

Beerbohm was a cat that resided at the Gielgud Theatre in London. He was born in the theatre, which was then named the Globe, and was named after actor and theatre manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree. He became renowned for attacking props and wandering into the actors' dressing rooms. Beerbohm came to public attention when he wandered across the stage during a 1978 performance by Hinge and Bracket, a trick he repeated throughout his life. Beerbohm retired in 1991 and went to live with the theatre's master carpenter in Beckenham. After his death in March 1995 the news was carried in many national newspapers and he became the first cat to receive a front-page obituary in The Stage.

The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising, mainly directed at those who work in theatre and the performing arts.


Early years

The theatre opened on 27 December 1906 as the Hicks Theatre in honour of actor, manager and playwright Seymour Hicks, for whom it was built. Designed by W.G.R. Sprague in Louis XVI style, the theatre originally had 970 seats, but over the years boxes and other seats have been removed. The theatre is a pair with the Queen's Theatre, which opened in 1907 on the adjacent street corner.

Louis XVI style neoclassical style within architecture and design

Louis XVI style, also called Louis Seize, is a style of architecture, furniture, decoration and art which developed in France during the 19-year reign of Louis XVI (1774–1793), just before the French Revolution. It saw the final phase of the baroque style as well as the birth of French neoclassicism. The style was a reaction against the elaborate ornament of the preceding baroque period. It was inspired in part by the discoveries of ancient Roman paintings, sculpture and architecture in Herculaneum and Pompeii. Its features included the straight column, the simplicity of the post-and-lintel, the architrave of the Greek temple. It also expressed the Rousseau-inspired values of returning to nature and the view of nature as an idealized and wild but still orderly and inherently worthy model for the arts to follow.

Queens Theatre theatre in the West End of London

The Queen's Theatre is a West End theatre located in Shaftesbury Avenue on the corner of Wardour Street in the City of Westminster, London. It opened on 8 October 1907 as a twin to the neighbouring Hicks Theatre which had opened ten months earlier. Both theatres were designed by W. G. R. Sprague.

The first play at the theatre was a musical called The Beauty of Bath by Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton. My Darling, another Hicks musical, followed in 1907, followed by the original London production of Brewster's Millions , and the next year, the long-running London premiere production of the Straus operetta, A Waltz Dream . An astonishing event occurred midway through the run of the theatre's next major work, a musical titled The Dashing Little Duke (1909), which was produced by Hicks. Hicks' wife, Ellaline Terriss, played the title role (a woman playing a man). When she missed several performances due to illness, Hicks stepped into the role – possibly the only case in the history of musical theatre where a husband succeeded to his wife's role. [2]

Cosmo Hamilton English novelist

Cosmo Hamilton, born Henry Charles Hamilton Gibbs, was an English playwright and novelist. He was the brother of writers A. Hamilton Gibbs and Sir Philip Gibbs.

Brewster's Millions is a novel written by George Barr McCutcheon in 1902, originally under the pseudonym of Richard Greaves. It was adapted into a play in 1906, which opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway, and the novel or play has been adapted into films thirteen times, four of which were produced in India.

Oscar Straus (composer) Viennese composer

Oscar Nathan Straus was a Viennese composer of operettas and film scores and songs. He also wrote about 500 cabaret songs, chamber music, and orchestral and choral works. His original name was actually Strauss, but for professional purposes he deliberately omitted the final 's', since he wished not to be associated with the musical Strauss family of Vienna. However, he did follow the advice of Johann Strauss II in 1898 about abandoning the prospective lure of writing waltzes for the more lucrative business of writing for the theatre.

In 1909, the American impresario Charles Frohman became sole manager of the theatre and renamed the house Globe Theatre (the "Globe Theatre" on Newcastle Street had been demolished in 1902, making the name available). The reopening production was His Borrowed Plumes, written by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill's mother. During the First World War, the musical Peg O' My Heart was a success at the theatre. Noël Coward debuted his Fallen Angels here in 1925. Call It a Day by Dodie Smith opened in 1935 and ran for 509 performances, an unusually long run for the slow inter-war years. Shakespeare and classic plays, as well as musicals, were seen at the theatre in the decades that followed. In 1938, actor John Gielgud directed and starred in a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest that was "regarded at the time as the definitive production of the 20th century." [3]

After World War II

Gielgud took his production of The Lady's Not for Burning , by Christopher Fry, to the Globe Theatre in 1949 for a successful West End premiere. [4] Likewise, in 1960, A Man For All Seasons had its stage premiere here. Terence Frisby's There's a Girl in My Soup , opening in 1966, ran for 1,064 performances at the theatre, a record that was not surpassed until Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of the Olivier Award-winning comedy Daisy Pulls It Off by Denise Deegan opened in April 1983 to run for 1,180 performances, the theatre's longest run. [5] In 1987 Peter Shaffer's play Lettice and Lovage had a hit London premiere, starring Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack, and running for two years. One of several Coward revivals in recent decades, Design for Living , starring Rachel Weisz, transferred to the theatre in 1995. When Lloyd Webber rewrote Tell Me on a Sunday , he relaunched it at the theatre to good notices. [6]

The Globe was the home of a resident theatre cat named Beerbohm, after actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The tabby's portrait still hangs in the corridor near the stalls. Beerbohm appeared on stage at least once in every production, forcing the actors to improvise. He always chose to occupy certain actors' dressing rooms while they were at the theatre, including Peter Bowles, Michael Gambon and Penelope Keith. Beerbohm was mentioned several times on Desert Island Discs , and he was the only cat to have received a front-page obituary in the theatrical publication, The Stage . [7] He died in March 1995 at the age of 20. [8]

Gielgud in 1973. The theatre was named for him in 1994. Sir John Gielgud 3 Allan Warren.tif
Gielgud in 1973. The theatre was named for him in 1994.

Refurbished in 1987, with extensive work on the gold leaf in the auditorium, the theatre is particularly notable for its beautiful circular Regency staircase, oval gallery and tower. The theatre has presented several Alan Ayckbourn premieres, including Man of the Moment (1990). Oscar Wilde's classic comedy, An Ideal Husband (1992) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (2004) saw notable revivals, and the Royal Shakespeare Company and others have brought several Shakespeare and classic play revivals to the theatre in recent decades. The 2007 production of Equus attracted considerable press for the nude appearance of 17-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, who was still filming the Harry Potter films. The production was successful enough to transfer to Broadway and ran to 2009 there. [9] Musicals returned in 2009 with a transfer of Avenue Q , and then a transfer from Broadway of Hair the next year, followed by the West End premiere of the stage version of Yes, Prime Minister before it went on tour. [10]

In 1994, in anticipation of the 1997 opening of the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the South Bank, to avoid public confusion, the theatre was renamed the Gielgud Theatre in honour of John Gielgud. The Globe's theatre cat, named Beerbohm, became famous enough to receive a front-page obituary in the theatrical publication The Stage in 1995. In 2003, Cameron Mackintosh announced plans to refurbish the Gielgud, including a joint entrance foyer with the adjacent Queen's Theatre, facing on to Shaftesbury Avenue. Mackintosh's Delfont Mackintosh Theatres took over operational control of the Gielgud from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theatres in 2006.

Work on the facade of the theatre started in March 2007 and the interior restoration, including reinstating the boxes at the back of the dress circle, was completed in January 2008. The theatre is one of the 40 theatres featured in the 2012 DVD documentary series Great West End Theatres , presented by Donald Sinden. [11]

Notable productions

Gertie Millar and Robert Evett in A Waltz Dream, 1908 A Waltz Dream.jpg
Gertie Millar and Robert Evett in A Waltz Dream , 1908

Recent and present productions

Andrew Lloyd Webber has mounted several notable productions at the theatre, and his company owned it for a time. AndrewLloydWebber2.jpg
Andrew Lloyd Webber has mounted several notable productions at the theatre, and his company owned it for a time.


  1. Historic England (28 June 1972). "Gielgud Theatre (1236174)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  2. Seymour Hicks Archived 18 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine at the British Musical Theatre website, 31 August 2004. Retrieved 19 December 2012
  3. "The Importance of Being Earnest: Notable productions", V & A Museum. Retrieved 19 December 2012
  4. Gielgud, John. "Mr. Gielgud discovers Mr. Fry; Reliance on designer." The New York Times, 5 November 1950, p. 98
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 18 October 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Tell Me on a Sunday (Gielgud Theatre)", BBC review, 16 April 2003. Retrieved 19 December 2012
  7. Alistair Smith, "Exclusive: Cats to return to West End", The Stage, 8 July 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  8. Parsons, Andrew. "Theatre Cats", Moggies Web Site, reprinted from The Times, 30 December 2000
  9. "Naked stage role for Potter star", BBC News, 28 July 2006. Retrieved 19 December 2012
  10. Yes, Prime Minister Archived 30 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine , The Corner Shop, 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2012
  11. Fisher, Philip. "Great West End Theatres", British Theatre Guide, 19 February 2012

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Further reading