Vaudeville Theatre

Last updated
Vaudeville Theatre
Vaudeville Theatre London.jpg
The Vaudeville Theatre in 2014
Vaudeville Theatre
Address Strand
London, WC2
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°30′38″N0°07′21″W / 51.510556°N 0.1225°W / 51.510556; -0.1225 Coordinates: 51°30′38″N0°07′21″W / 51.510556°N 0.1225°W / 51.510556; -0.1225
Public transit Underground no-text.svg Charing Cross
National Rail logo.svg Charing Cross
Owner Nimax Theatres
Designation Grade II
Type West End theatre
Capacity 690 on 3 levels
Production Magic Goes Wrong
Opened16 April 1870;151 years ago (1870-04-16)
Rebuilt1882 (C. J. Phipps)
1926 (Robert Atkinson)
Architect C. J. Phipps
Henry Irving Henry Irving portrait.jpg
Henry Irving

The Vaudeville Theatre is a West End theatre on the Strand in the City of Westminster. As the name suggests, the theatre held mostly vaudeville shows and musical revues in its early days. It opened in 1870 and was rebuilt twice, although each new building retained elements of the previous structure. The current building opened in 1926, and the capacity is now 690 seats. Rare thunder drum and lightning sheets, together with other early stage mechanisms, survive in the theatre.




The theatre was designed by prolific architect C. J. Phipps, and decorated in a Romanesque style by George Gordon. It opened on 16 April 1870 with Andrew Halliday's comedy, For Love Or Money and a burlesque, Don Carlos or the Infante in Arms. A notable innovation was the concealed footlights, which would shut off if the glass in front of them was broken. [1] The owner, William Wybrow Robertson, had run a failing billiard hall on the site but saw more opportunity in theatre. He leased the new theatre to three actors, Thomas Thorne, David James, and H.J. Montague. [2] The original theatre stood behind two houses on the Strand, and the entrance was through a labyrinth of small corridors. It had a seating capacity of 1,046, rising in a horseshoe over a pit and three galleries. The cramped site meant that facilities front and backstage were limited.

The great Shakespearean actor, Henry Irving, had his first conspicuous success as Digby Grant in James Albery's Two Roses at the Vaudeville in 1870. It held the theatre for what was at the time an extraordinarily successful run of 300 nights. The first theatre piece in the world to achieve 500 consecutive performances was the comedy Our Boys by H. J. Byron, which started its run at the Vaudeville in 1875. The production went on to surpass the 1,000 performance mark. This was such a rare event that London bus conductors approaching the Vaudeville Theatre stop shouted "Our Boys!" instead of the name of the theatre.

Jerome K. Jerome Jerome K. Jerome.jpg
Jerome K. Jerome

In 1882, Thomas Thorne became the sole lessee, and in 1889 he demolished the houses to create a foyer block in the Adamesque style, behind a Portland stone facade on the Strand. He again used architect C.J. Phipps. The theatre was refurbished to have more spacious seating and an ornate ceiling. It reopened on 13 January 1891 with a performance of Jerome K. Jerome's comedy, Woodbarrow Farm, preceded by Herbert Keith's one-act play The Note of Hand. This foyer is preserved today, as is the four-storey frontage. [2] Dramatist W. S. Gilbert presented one of his later plays here, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (1891), a burlesque "in Three Short 'Tableaux'". (He had published it in 1874 in Fun magazine ). Also in 1891, Elizabeth Robins and Marion Lea directed and starred in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the theatre, and his Rosmersholm had its London premiere here.

Gatti family

In 1892, Thorne passed the lease to restaurateurs Agostino and Stefano Gatti, who since 1878 had held the lease of the nearby Adelphi Theatre. The first production at the new theatre was a revival of Our Boys. The lease briefly passed into the hands of Weedon Grossmith in 1894, but was back with the Gattis in 1896. The theatre became known for a series of successful musical comedies. The French Maid , by Basil Hood, with music by Walter Slaughter, first played in London at Terry's Theatre under the management of W.H. Griffiths beginning in 1897 but transferred to the Vaudeville in early 1898, running for a very successful total of 480 London performances. The piece starred Louie Pounds. Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss starred in a series of Christmas entertainments here, including their popular Bluebell in Fairyland (1901). The foyer of the theatre had become infamous as the site of an argument in 1897 between Richard Archer Prince and Terriss's father, actor William Terriss. Soon after that argument, the deranged Prince stabbed William Terriss to death at the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre. Prince was a struggling young actor whom Terriss had tried to help. [3]

Seymour Hicks Hicks.title.jpg
Seymour Hicks

Hicks and Terriss also starred here in Quality Street , a comedy by J. M. Barrie, which opened at the Vaudeville in 1902 and ran for 459 performances. It had first played in New York in 1901 but ran there for only 64 performances. This was one of the first American productions to score a bigger triumph in London. This was followed by the 1903 musical The Cherry Girl by Hicks, with music by Ivan Caryll, starring Hicks, Terriss and Courtice Pounds. [4] In 1904, Hicks scored an even bigger hit with the musical, The Catch of the Season , written by Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, based on the fairy tale Cinderella . It had a very long run of 621 performances, starring Hicks, Zena Dare (who created the role of Angela when Ellaline Terriss's pregnancy forced her to withdraw. Dare was later replaced by Terriss and then by Dare's sister, Phyllis Dare) and Louie Pounds.

John Maria and Rocco Gatti took over management of the Vaudeville in 1905. In 1906, the theatre hosted the very successful The Belle of Mayfair , a musical composed by Leslie Stuart with a book by Basil Hood, Charles Brookfield and Cosmo Hamilton, produced by Hicks' partner, Charles Frohman. It ran for 431 performances and starred Edna May, Louie and her brother Courtice Pounds, and Camille Clifford. In 1910, an English adaptation of The Girl in the Train (Die geschiedene Frau – literally, "The Divorcee"), a 1908 Viennese operetta by Leo Fall, opened at the Vaudeville. It was produced by George Edwardes, with lyrics by Adrian Ross and starred Robert Evett, Phyllis Dare and Rutland Barrington. In 1911, William Greet produced Baby Mine at the theatre. Betty Bolton made her debut in 1916, at the age of 10, in a revue called Some, at the theatre. During and after World War I, audiences sought light entertainment, and musical revues held the Vaudeville stage, including Cheep (1917), the long-running Just Fancy (1920) and Rats (1923), another popular revue. Albert Ketèlbey was one of the theatre's music directors.

Postcard of the Vaudeville Theatre, c. 1905 Uk london vaudeville.jpg
Postcard of the Vaudeville Theatre, c. 1905

The theatre closed on 7 November 1925, when the interior was completely reconstructed to designs by Robert Atkinson. The auditorium was changed from a horseshoe shape to the current rectangle shape, and the seating capacity reduced to just over 700. A new dressing room block with an ornate boardroom extended the site to Maiden Lane. The theatre reopened on 23 February 1926, with a popular revue by Archie de Bear called R.S.V.P., notable because its final rehearsal was broadcast by the BBC. The theatre then hosted William Somerset Maugham's comedy, The Bread-Winner in 1930. After World War II, the theatre presented William Douglas Home's play, The Chiltern Hundreds, which ran for 651 performances. The record-setting musical Salad Days , composed by Julian Slade with lyrics by Dorothy Reynolds and Slade, premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 1954 but soon transferred to the Vaudeville, enjoying the longest run of any theatrical work up to that point in history. Another notable production at the theatre was Arnold Wesker's 1959 play, Chips with Everything.

Modern era

A proposed redevelopment of Covent Garden by the GLC in 1968 saw the theatre under threat, together with the nearby Adelphi, Garrick, Lyceum and Duchess theatres. An active campaign by Equity, the Musicians' Union and theatre owners under the auspices of the Save London Theatres Campaign led to the abandonment of the scheme. [2]

Cicely Courtneidge played at the theatre in The Bride Comes Back (1960) and Ray Cooney's Move Over Mrs. Markham (1971). Bill Treacher made his West End debut in 1963 in the comedy Shout for Life at the Vaudeville. In 1966, the theatre hosted Arsenic and Old Lace , starring Sybil Thorndike and her husband Lewis Casson. Brigid Brophy's The Burglar premiered at the theatre in 1967, and Joyce Rayburn's comedy, The Man Most Likely To..., starring Leslie Phillips, opened initially at the Vaudeville in 1968 and went on to run for over 1,000 performances in London.

In 1969, the Gatti family sold their interest in the theatre to Sir Peter Saunders, and in 1970 he commissioned Peter Rice to redesign the interior. Among other changes were a deep red wallpaper in the auditorium and more comfortable seats. Also, the loggia above the street was glazed to make the balcony an extension of the bar. The backstage lighting was rerigged, and a forestage lift and counterweight flying system were installed. The theatre achieved some protection in 1972 when it was Grade II listed. [5] [6] In 1983, ownership passed to Michael Codron and David Sutton. Stephen Waley-Cohen took ownership in 1996, passing it to Max Weitzenhofer in 2002. [2]

Meanwhile, drama was added to the standard bill of fare at the theatre. Hugh Paddick starred in the Joyce Rayburn farce Out on a Limb at the theatre in 1976, Noël Coward's Present Laughter with Donald Sinden in the lead was revived in 1981 and Patrick Cargill and Moira Lister co-starred in the farce Key for Two in 1982. Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit was revived at the theatre in 1986, and Willy Russell's play Shirley Valentine played in 1988, starring Pauline Collins. In 1990, Simon Gray's play Hidden Laughter was produced at the theatre, followed by Kander and Ebb's 1991 musical, 70, Girls, 70 , starring Dora Bryan.

A 1996 revival of Salad Days , starring the duo Kit and The Widow, was not successful, but Jean Fergusson's show She Knows You Know!, in which she portrayed the Lancashire comedian Hylda Baker, played at the theatre in 1997 and was nominated for a 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. [7] Showtune , a musical revue celebrating the words and music of composer Jerry Herman and conceived by Paul Gilger was given a London production at the Vaudeville in 1998 under its previous title The Best of Times. That same year the theatre housed Kat and the Kings , which won the Olivier for Best New Musical and, in an unusual move, Best Actor in a Musical for its entire cast. Madame Melville , a play by Richard Nelson was presented in 2000. It marked the return of Macaulay Culkin to acting after a six-year hiatus and also starred Irène Jacob and Madeleine Potter. In 2001 Ray Cooney's farce Caught in the Net, starring Russ Abbot and Eric Sykes, had a ten-month run.

The dance/performance art troupe Stomp was in residence at the theatre from 2002 to 2007. Since 2003, the theatre has been owned by Max Weitzenhoffer, and in 2005, the venue was brought under the management of Nimax Theatres Limited.

Recent and present productions

The rear premises of the Vaudeville Theatre, designed in 1925-1926 by Robert Atkinson Vaudeville Theatre, Maiden Lane, London (geograph 3546083).jpg
The rear premises of the Vaudeville Theatre, designed in 1925–1926 by Robert Atkinson

Michael Grandage Company

Classic Spring Company

Mischief Theatre

Donmar West End

Nearby tube stations

London Illustrated Almanac of 1872 LONDON ILLUSTRATED p1.081 ADS. - VAUDELLI THEATRE.jpg
London Illustrated Almanac of 1872


  1. From: Henrietta Street and Maiden Lane Area: Maiden Lane, Survey of London: volume 36: Covent Garden (1970), pp. 239–52. Date accessed, 28 March 2007
  2. 1 2 3 4 Vaudeville Theatre accessed 28 March 2007
  3. Article about Terriss, Prince and the murder
  4. "Midi files and cast list for The Cherry Girl". Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-03-28.
  5. English Heritage Listing details for Theatre accessed 27 March 2007
  6. English Heritage Listing details for Maiden Lane entrance and dressing room block accessed 27 March 2007
  7. Information about She Knows You Know! at the IMDB database
  8. Historic England. "Rear premises of the Vaudeville Theatre (1238979)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  9. "Ben Miller and Diana Vickers star in Duck House in the West End". Whats On Stage. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2013.

Related Research Articles

Gielgud Theatre Theatre in the West End of London

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

Adelphi Theatre

The Adelphi Theatre is a London West End theatre, located on the Strand in the City of Westminster. The present building is the fourth on the site. The theatre has specialised in comedy and musical theatre, and today it is a receiving house for a variety of productions, including many musicals. The theatre was Grade II listed for historical preservation on 1 December 1987.

<i>Forbidden Broadway</i>

Forbidden Broadway is an Off-Broadway revue parodying musical theatre, particularly Broadway musicals. It was conceived, written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini.

William Terriss

William Terriss, born as William Charles James Lewin, was an English actor, known for his swashbuckling hero roles, such as Robin Hood, as well as parts in classic dramas and comedies. He was also a notable Shakespearean performer. He was the father of the Edwardian musical comedy star Ellaline Terriss and the film director Tom Terriss.

Seymour Hicks

Sir Edward Seymour Hicks, better known as Seymour Hicks, was a British actor, music hall performer, playwright, 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>Quality Street</i> (play)

Quality Street is a comedy in four acts by J. M. Barrie, written before his more famous work Peter Pan. The story is about two sisters who start a school "for genteel children".

<i>The Catch of the Season</i>

The Catch of the Season is an Edwardian musical comedy by Seymour Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, with music by Herbert Haines and Evelyn Baker and lyrics by Charles H. Taylor, based on the fairy tale Cinderella. A debutante is engaged to a young aristocrat but loves a page.

Ellaline Terriss English actress, singer

Mary Ellaline Terriss, Lady Hicks, known professionally as Ellaline Terriss, was a popular British actress and singer, best known for her performances in Edwardian musical comedies. She met and married the actor-producer Seymour Hicks in 1893, and the two collaborated on many projects for the stage and screen.

<i>The Beauty of Bath</i>

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.

William Greet

William Greet was a British theatre manager from the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Originally a business manager for other theatre licensees in the 1880s, he branched out as an independent manager in the 1890s and was associated with various London theatres, principally the Lyric, the Savoy and the Adelphi Theatres.

Elena Roger

Elena Silvia Roger is an Argentine actress who won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in Piaf. She has also appeared in the West End in Evita, Boeing-Boeing, and Passion.

Phyllis Dare English actress, singer

Phyllis Dare was an English singer and actress, famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre in the first half of the 20th century.

Zena Dare English actress, singer

Zena Dare was an English singer and actress who was famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre and comedic plays in the first half of the 20th century.

<i>Bluebell in Fairyland</i>

Bluebell in Fairyland is a Christmas-season children's entertainment described as "a musical dream play", in two acts, with a book by Seymour Hicks, lyrics by Aubrey Hopwood and Charles H. Taylor, and music by Walter Slaughter. It was produced by Charles Frohman. The creators sought to distinguish the work from a Christmas pantomime. The story concerns a flower girl, Bluebell, who on Christmas Eve goes to fairyland in search of the "Sleeping King", seeking to restore him to his throne, which has been usurped by the "Reigning King".

Harold Pinter Theatre

The Harold Pinter Theatre, known as the Comedy Theatre until 2011, is a West End theatre, and opened on Panton Street in the City of Westminster, on 15 October 1881, as the Royal Comedy Theatre. It was designed by Thomas Verity and built in just six months in painted (stucco) stone and brick. By 1884 it was known as simply the Comedy Theatre. In the mid-1950s the theatre underwent major reconstruction and re-opened in December 1955; the auditorium remains essentially that of 1881, with three tiers of horseshoe-shaped balconies.

<i>The Gay Gordons</i> (musical)

The Gay Gordons is a 1907 Edwardian musical comedy with a book by Seymour Hicks, music by Guy Jones and lyrics by Arthur Wimperis, C. H. Bovill, Henry Hamilton and P. G. Wodehouse, who wrote the lyrics to "Now That My Ship's Come Home" and "You, You, You". The title refers to both the Clan Gordon and the famed Scottish regiment the Gordon Highlanders as the plot involves the heir to the clan and a soldier from the regiment.

F. Ray Comstock

F. Ray Comstock was an American theatrical producer and theater operator. He pioneered the intimate musical comedy, staging several successful comedies at his Princess Theatre in Manhattan. He also produced spectacular musicals, variety shows and serious plays by authors such as Henrik Ibsen and Maxim Gorky.

William Barr Friedlander was an American songwriter and theater producer who staged many Broadway shows in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them were musical comedies. Early successes included Moonlight (1924) and Mercenary Mary (1925). Later productions received mixed reception. His longest-running production was the comedy Separate Rooms, which ran from March 1940 to September 1941.

Stanley Brett was a British musical comedy actor and comedian.

Aubrey Hopwood

Aubrey Hopwood was a British lyricist of Edwardian musical comedy and a novelist and author of nonsense books for children. He co-wrote the lyrics for the musicals Alice in Wonderland (1886), A Runaway Girl (1898) and The Lucky Star (1899), among others.