Palace Theatre, London

Palace Theatre, London

Infobox Theatre
name = Palace Theatre

caption = Whistle Down the Wind in June 2006
address = Cambridge Circus
city = City of Westminster, London
country =
designation = Grade II*
latitude = 51.513167
longitude = -0.129472
architect = Thomas Edward Collcutt
owner = Really Useful Theatres
capacity = 1,400(4 levels)
type = West End theatre
opened = January 1891
yearsactive =
rebuilt = 1892 Walter Emden (conversion)
closed =
othernames = Royal English Opera House Palace Theatre of Varieties
production = Monty Python's Spamalot
currentuse =
website =

The Palace Theatre, is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster. It is an imposing red-brick building that dominates the west side of Cambridge Circus, and is located near the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road. The Palace Theatre's current capacity is 1,400.


Early years

Commissioned by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte in the late 1880s, it was designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt. Carte intended it to be the home of English grand opera, much as his Savoy Theatre had been built as a home for English light opera, beginning with the Gilbert and Sullivan series. The foundation stone, laid by his wife Helen in 1888, can still be seen on the façade of the theatre, almost at ground level to the right of the entrance. The theatre's design was considered to be novel. The upper levels are supported by heavy steel cantilevers built into the back walls, removing the need for supporting pillars that impede the view of the stage. The tiers, corridors, staircases, landings are all constructed of concrete to reduce the risk and damage that might be done by fire. [ [ feature on the theatre.] ]

The theatre opened as the "Royal English Opera House" in January 1891 with Arthur Sullivan's "Ivanhoe". No expense was spared to make the production a success, including a double cast and "every imaginable effect of scenic splendour ["Hesketh Pearson, "Gilbert and Sullivan"] . It ran for 160 performances, but when "Ivanhoe" finally closed in July, Carte had no new work to replace it, and the opera house had to close. One opera is not enough to sustain an opera house venture. It was, as critic Hermann Klein observed, "the strangest comingling of success and failure ever chronicled in the history of British lyric enterprise!" [ Hermann Klein's 1903 description of "Ivanhoe"] ] Sir Henry Wood, who had been répétiteur for the production, recalled in his autobiography that " [if] Carte had had a repertory of six operas instead of only one, I believe he would have established English opera in London for all time. Towards the end of the run of "Ivanhoe" I was already preparing the "Flying Dutchman" with Eugène Oudin in the name part. He would have been superb. However, plans were altered and the Dutchman was shelved." ["My Life of Music", Victor Gollancz Ltd, London (1938)]

The theatre re-opened in November 1891, with André Messager's "La Basoche" (with David Bispham in his first London stage performance) at first alternating in repertory with "Ivanhoe", and then "La Basoche" alone, closing in January 1892. Carte had no other works ready, and so he leased the theatre to Sarah Bernhardt for a season and sold the opera house within a year at a loss. It was then converted by Walter Emden into a grand, clubby music hall and renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties, managed by Charles Morton, known as the 'Father of Music Halls', who made it into a successful enterprise. [ [ Pages about Morton's management in feature on the theatre] (Arthur Lloyd) accessed 27 March 2008]

In March 1897, the theatre began to screen films from the "American Biograph Company" as part of its programme of entertainment, these films pioneered the 70 mm format which helped give an exceptionally large and clear image filling the proscenium arch. The performances included early newsreels from around the world, many of them made by film pioneer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, including film of the Anglo-Boer War (1900). The Palace continued to shows films as part of its variety and musical programmes [ [ Victorian Cinema venues] accessed 21 Jun 2007] .

20th and 21st centuries

, and elegant pianist-singer Margaret Cooper. [ [ Second page about Butt's management in feature on the theatre] ]

The name of the theatre was finally changed to The Palace Theatre in 1911. Herman Finck‎ was musical director at the theatre from 1900 until 1920, [ [ Palace Theatre Feature] ] with whose orchestra he made many recordings. The theatre was famous not only for its orchestra, but also for the beautiful Palace Girls, for whom Finck composed many dances. In 1911, the Palace Girls performed a song and dance number, which was originally called "Tonight" but became very popular as a romantic instrumental piece "In The Shadows". In 1912, the theatre hosted a Royal Command Performance. [ [ Page about the Royal Command Performance] ]

On March 11 1925, the musical comedy "No, No, Nanette" opened at the Palace Theatre starring Binnie Hale and George Grossmith, Jr. The run of 665 performances made it the third longest running West End musical of the 1920s. The Palace Theatre was also the venue for Rogers and Hart's " The Girl Friend" (1927) and Fred Astaire's final stage musical "Gay Divorce" (1933). Later musical theatre works that played at the theatre included "Anything Goes", "Flower Drum Song", "Cabaret", and many others. In the 1960s, "The Sound of Music" ran for 2,385 performances, opening on 18 May 1961. [ [ Thumbnails of programmes from musicals that played at the theatre] ] ".

In August 1983, Andrew Lloyd-Webber announced that he had purchased the freehold of the theatre for £1.3 million and subsequently set out on a series of works to restore the theatre. During work on the auditorium, a layer of plum-coloured paint was removed, revealing the famous marble and onyx panels to be untouched. Following the transfer of "Les Miserables" in 2004, the theatre was greatly refurbished and restored, its marble walls uncovered, and new chandeliers installed, among other efforts. This was followed by a short 6-week season of illusionist Derren Brown following his successful UK tour.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White" received its world premiere on September 15 2004 and ran for 19 months to February 25 2006. The show outlived the Broadway production. Bill Kenwright's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's musical "Whistle Down The Wind" played from March 15 - August 12 2006. "Monty Python's Spamalot" opened on September 30 2006 and is still running at the theatre.

The theatre was Grade II* listed by English Heritage in June 1960 [ [ English Heritage listing details] accessed 28 Apr 2007] .

Recent notable productions

*"Song and Dance" (April 7, 1982 - March 31, 1984)
*"Les Misérables" (December 4, 1985 - March 27, 2004)
*"The Woman in White" (September 15, 2004 - February 25, 2006)
* "Whistle Down The Wind" (March 15, 2006 - August 12, 2006)
* "Monty Python's Spamalot" (September 30, 2006 - January 3, 2009)


* "Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950", John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 130 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3

Nearby tube stations

*Leicester Square
*Tottenham Court Road

External links

* [ Really Useful Theatres]
* [ Theatre Reviews from]
* [ Palace Theatre London]
* [ Theatre History]
* [ Palace Theatre History Feature]

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