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The Playhouse Theatre is a West End theatremarker in the City of Westminstermarker, located in Northumberland Avenuemarker, near Trafalgar Squaremarker. The Theatre was built by F. H. Fowler and Hill with a seating capacity of 1,200. It was rebuilt in 1907 and still retains its original substage machinery. Its current seating capacity is 786.


Early years

Originally the Royal Avenue Theatre, it opened on 11 March 1882 with 679 seats. The first production at the theatre was Jacques Offenbach's Madame Favart. In its early seasons, the theatre hosted comic operas, burlesques and farces for several years. For much of this time, the low comedian, Arthur Roberts, a popular star of the music halls, starred at the theatre. By the 1890s, the theatre was presenting drama, and in 1894 Annie Horniman, the tea heiress, anonymously sponsored the actress Florence Farr in a season of plays at the theatre. Farr's first production was unsuccessful, and so she prevailed upon her friend, George Bernard Shaw to hurry and make his West Endmarker début at the theatre with Arms and the Man in 1894. It was successful enough to allow him to discontinue music criticism to focus full time on play writing. The legendary actress manager Gladys Cooper ran the theatre for some years.

The theatre was rebuilt in 1905 to the designs of Blow and Billerey. During the work, part of the roof of the adjacent Charing Cross railway stationmarker collapsed. The roof and girders fell across the train lines but part of the station western wall also fell and crashed through the the roof and wall of the theatre. This resulted in the deaths of three people in the station, and three workmen on the theatre site and injuries to many more. The theatre was repaired and re-opened as The Playhouse on 28 January 1907 with a one-act play called The Drums of Oudh and a play called Toddles, by Tristan Bernard and Andre Godferneaux. The new theatre had a smaller seating capacity of 679. W. Somerset Maugham's Home and Beauty premièred at the Playhouse on 30 August 1919, running for 235 performances, and Henry Daniell appeared here in February 1926 as the Prince of Karaslavia in Mr. Abdulla. Nigel Bruce appeared in February 1927 as Robert Crosbie in Somerset Maugham's The Letter, and again in May 1930 as Robert Brennan in Dishonoured Lady. Alec Guinness made his stage début here in Ward Dorane's play Libel! on 2 April 1934. Daniell returned in November that year as Paul Miller in Hurricane.

BBC studio and later years

In 1951 it was taken over by the BBC as a recording studio for live performances. The Goon Show and the radio versions of Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son were recorded here, although at least the first two shows were recorded at other venues during their runs. The stage also hosted live performances by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. On 3 April 1967 a live Pink Floyd concert was broadcast from the theatre.

When the BBC left around 1976, the theatre went dark and was in danger of demolition, but it was saved and restored to its 1907 design by impressario Robin Gonshaw, opening again in October 1987 with the musical Girlfriends. A commercial building, Aria House, was erected above the theatre.

In 1988 the novelist and politician Jeffrey Archer bought the Playhouse for just over £1 million. The following year, the theatre was offered commercial sponsorship by a financial services' company, and for a while it was known as the MI Group Playhouse. In 1991 the Playhouse became home to the Peter Hall Company, and a number of critically and commercially successful plays were performed there, including: Tenessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo (1991), starring Julie Walters, and Molliere's Tartuffe (1991), starring Paul Eddington and Felicity Kendal. It was around this time that the basement bar area of the theatre was converted into a private restaurant, Shaws, though this didn't prove successful and the space was later converted back into a bar/cafe.

In 1992 Archer sold the Playhouse to the writer and impressario Ray Cooney for just over £2 million. That year Cooney staged the West End premier of his latest farce It Runs in the Family at the Playhouse. This was followed by Jane Eyre (1993), adapted by Fay Weldon and starring Tim Pigott-Smith; Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval, (1994), starring Simon Ward, Martin Jarvis and Anna Carteret, and Ray Cooney's Funny Money in 1995.

Following a critically-acclaimed revival of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House in 1996, starring Janet McTeer, the theatre was sold and closed again for refurbishment, reopening in 1997 as a producing house with the West End première of Anton Chekov's The Wood Demon. This was poorly received, and the theatre returned to life as a commercial receiving house. However, the auditorium is luxuriously decorated, with grandiose murals, caryatids, golden pillars, carved balustrades, and shining gold decoration.

Interior of the theatre
at the Playhouse since the late 1990s have included Naked (1998); J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls (2001) and Journey's End, directed by David Grindley. American theatrical producers Ted and Norman Tulchin's Maidstone Productions purchased the theatre at the end of 2002, and the venue is being managed by the Ambassador Theatre Group. The Playhouse then hosted Richard Eyre's 2003 Olivier Award-winning production of Vincent in Brixton, starring Clare Higgins; and Eyre's 2005 production of Hedda Gabler, starring Eve Best. Megan Dodds starred in a revival of the controversial My Name Is Rachel Corrie in 2006. More recent successes include the musical Dancing in the Streets, The Adventures of Tintin based on the famous comic-book detective, The Harder They Come, and La Cage Aux Folles.

Recent and present productions

See also


  1. Pink Floyd timeline accessed 27 March 2007
  2. thisistheatre Playhouse theatre history accessed 28 March 2007


External links

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