A Guide To the West End’s Best Known Theatres

The diverse culture and history of London provides several popular attractions for tourists and citizens. Most visits to the capital are considered incomplete without a trip to London’s theatres, as the city is home to some of the best musicals and plays around.

The West End is one of the most popular attractions of London and continues to attract more people every year – in 2018, West End drew revenue of £765 million, an increase by 8.6% compared to 2017. But it hasn’t always been this popular. In 1642, all theatres throughout London were closed for seventeen years as entertainment was banned. But once this was lifted, the West End started to thrive and has continued to do so ever since. It’s oldest theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, opened in 1663 and is still a royal favourite. Here’s a guide to three of the best known theatres in the West End.

The Queen’s Theatre: As this year determines the end of The Queen’s Theatre in replacement of The Sondheim Theatre, it’s only appropriate for us to look back at the beauty that it was. It opened in 1907 and was designed by architect W.G.R Sprague, who also designed many other theatres for West End. Originally, it was going to be named ‘The Central Theatre,’ but it was eventually changed to Queen’s.

Originally, the interior was two-tier and featured a colour scheme of white and gold with green carpets and upholstery while the staircase to the dress circle was designed with marble. It was composed of three levels – stalls, dress circle, upper circle and the gallery, which was at the rear of the upper. In the 1907 edition of their newspaper, The Stage described the theatre as ‘A two-tier house, the Queen’s holds about 1200 persons, representing some £300 in money.’

In September 1940 however, the theatre was bombed and part of the exterior, front of house areas, and part of the circles were destroyed. It was not renovated for twenty years, where it retained its Edwardian style but with a modern twist for the lobby. The renovation cost £200,000. From the outside, the foyer is visible, while the auditorium retained the red and gold style of décor.

The theatre became home to Les Miserables from 2004, and still hosted the production until its recent closing in 2019. This was for restoration purposes as well as a new name – The Sondheim Theatre, after American composer Stephen Sondheim. War-time damage has been restored as well as a ‘complete backstage.’ Performances of Les Miserables will run again from 18th December.

Adelphi Theatre: The present Adelphi Theatre is the fourth on the site, as it has a long history stretching back to 1806. The first theatre was constructed in 1806, named the Sans Pareil, and was then sold in 1820 as The Adelphi Theatre, later renamed to Theatre Royal Adelphi Theatre in 1829. Over this time, a new façade was built into the building by Samuel Beazley – the original architect for the theatre.

The second theatre was a three-storied building featuring pillars between the windows. Columns of polished granite led to the restaurant, which occupied almost the entirety of the front building. It was stately designed, apparently constituting a high-class London restaurant.

Meanwhile the third Adelphi Theatre was built in 1901 and was renamed The Century Theatre. This renovation was almost an entire redesign of the previous building as it needed ‘structural revision.’ A more spacious crush-room (where visitors waited outside of the auditorium) was added as well as managerial offices. There had also been many changes to the entrance of the stalls, as previously, they had been deemed an inconvenience due to their extremely straight build. These were adapted via a wide subway which lead from the main entrance to different sides of the theatre. The colour scheme consisted of lilac and yellow, accompanied by marble and gold. Heating and electrical lighting were also installed as the theatre received many complaints about draft creeping in.

Finally, the fourth and present 1930 structure was the last renovation to date. It’s known for its geometric design, excluding all curves, the conception is carried out with straight lines across the building. The lower part of the walls are paneled in deep orange wood, a plain and polished style accompanied with shades of green and gold throughout the theatre that creates a rich and opulent atmosphere. What’s interesting to note about this design is that it is far from the grand designs from the past theatres – instead, it’s rather plan and simple.

Kinky Boots, an award winning production, drew the curtains on its show in January with Broadway musical Waitress taking its place since March.

Ambassadors Theatre: Designed by W. G. R. Sprague, Ambassadors Theatre opened its doors in 1913 as a smaller companion to St Martin’s Theatre with the aim of having two smaller theatres side by side in a more intimate location. Due to the outbreak of WW1, St Martin’s Theatre was put on hold until 1916.

It is situated opposite the Ivy restaurant which was frequented by the theatrical elite, and it was designed by W.G.R Sprague, who also worked on The Queen’s Theatre. When construction for the Ambassadors began, the building before St Martin’s had not been demolished, so the theatre was built lower than usual – the stalls are below ground level – to not interfere with the lights of the other building. Cooler colours such as Parma violet and dull gold are used throughout the design, as opposed to the warm colours often seen in theatres, possible to create the illusion of a bigger room.

One of England’s longest running productions, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap was initially hosted here till it was finally moved to St Martin’s Theatre which could house larger audiences – it remains there today.

Apart from the cultural prowess and side attractions, London delivers in its museums, zoos and aquarium, but a visit is not complete without a trip to one of the theatres for a musical, play or an opera and the three theatres discussed above will serve any traveller well.

By Ruby Clarkson

Thanks to Omega Breaks for helping to provide some of the information used in this article.

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