The theatre seats 495, and seating is split into stalls and dress circle. The rear stalls are separated right and left by an aisle down the middle, but at the font the rows become continuous. The stalls are particularly narrow, meaning wide angle viewing at ends of rows is less of a problem than in other theatres. The dress circle seats are arranged in one block, with aisles at either side.
The Duchess Theatre is a young theatre in the West End, situated near Aldwych. It was designed by Ewan Barr, and built for Arthur Gibbons in 1929. The interior decoration was introduced 5 years later, under the supervision of Mary Wyndham Lewis, wife of playwright J. B. Priestley. In the early years, Priestly had many connections with the theatre: a number of his plays including Laburnum Grove, The Linden Tree, Eden End, were staged there, and in 1934 he joined the management team. The theatre is best known for its drama.
Harold Pinter’s first West End success, The Caretaker, took place at the Duchess Theatre in 1960, with Donald Pleasance and Alan Bates. Perhaps most excitingly, the forerunner to the famous Michael Cain movie, Alfie, was a play of the same name by Bill Naughton staged at the Duchess Theatre in 1962. In 2005, Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer purchased the Duchess Theatre, along with the Apollo, the Lyric and the Garrick, forming Nimax Theatres.
The theatre seats 888, and seating is split into stalls, dress circle, upper circle and gallery. The stalls have a fair rake. Stalls boxes and dress circle boxes offer a fair view of the stage, with only a small amount not visible. The grand circle has a steep rake, making up for distance from the stage. The gallery is set behind the upper circle, and quite high up. Its seats are benches rather than individual seats.
There has been a theatre on the site of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket since 1720. The first theatre was called the Little Theatre, Haymarket, built by carpenter John Potter. Due to the Patent Theatres act, Potter was unable to run the theatre, leasing it to anyone who could fill it. Henry Fielding was most successful, with his company of ‘Mogul’s Comedians’. In 1766, Samuel Foote was able to finally acquire a patent for the theatre, as a consolation for losing his leg during an unfortunate stage accident for which Lord Mexborough felt responsible. With this patent, many construction enhancements finally took place. The second theatre on the site was built slightly south of the first, designed by architect John Nash. It was named the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. It was in this theatre that the first matinee performance in London was staged, which has now become a valuable feature of West End theatre.
The exterior’s famous pillars make a grand, imposing affair, and remain today. However, the interior was not as well liked, and has been converted many times. In 1879, design work for C. J. Phipps, one of the most celebrated architects of the time, was commissioned by the Bancrofts, who had taken over management after leaving the nearby Prince of Wales Theatre. At the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, he made the first totally enclosed proscenium stage, and replaced the standing pit with stalls. Under the management of Beerbohm Tree in 1895, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, hosted premieres of Oscar Wilde’s plays A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband.
In the 20th and 21st century, as in the past, the theatre is best known for its drama, showing only occasional short-running musicals, which do include Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Acorn Antiques the Musical. The Theatre Royal, Haymarket has seen notable productions of plays by Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard and George Bernard Shaw, and hosted famous names such as Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, David Suchet, and on a number of occasions Ralph Fiennes.
The auditorium seats approximately 2,220, and seating is split into stalls, dress circle, upper circle and the balcony. The stage is low, so the front row day seats in the stalls are recommended as good value for money. In general, this theatre suffers from a low rake at all tiers, making seats at the back of all levels too low for comfort. Seats at the sides of the upper circle and the balcony and the back of the balcony have partially obstructed viewing angles.
There are bars at foyer, stalls and dress circle level. You can expect to pay £.4.50 for beer and wine, or £2.00 for soft drinks. Ice cream, sold in in the auditorium during the interval, is £3.20.
A theatre has been located on the current site of The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane since 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London. The initial Theatre Royal was built in the early years of the Restoration, at the behest of Thomas Killigrew, named ‘The Theatre Royal in Bridges Street’. It burned down in 1672, but Killigrew rebuilt a design by Christopher Wren, renamed as the ‘Theatre Royal, Drury Lane’. This building lasted an epic 120 years, under a number of resident directors including the 18th century playwright Richard Brindsey Sheridan. The scale of Sheridan’s vision was such that in 1791, he demolished the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, and replaced it with a much larger theatre on the same site. However, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was ill-fated, because just 15 years later, despite claims of a ‘fireproof theatre’ another of the Theatre Royals fell prematurely, due to fire.
Today’s theatre opened in 1812, making it the longest standing of all the four Drury Lane theatres. Prominent runs include My Fair Lady, which opened on the boards of the Theatre Royal in 1958, and in 1989 Miss Saigon started a run that would last 10 years. One of the quaint traditions of the Theatre Royal, is that on the 12th Night of each year, a ‘Baddley’ cake is baked to remember Robert Baddley, who bequeathed money to the theatre on his death during a run of Sheridan’s play, School for Scandal in 1794.
The theatre seats 658, and seating is split into stalls, dress circle and upper circle. The original balcony made the seating capacity up to 800, but it has been closed. Since it is far back, it does not obstruct any view from the upper circle. The best seats in the stalls are at least several rows back from the front. Boxes at all levels offer fair viewing.
The Garrick Theatre was commissioned by Gilbert, half of the famous duo, Gilbert and Sullivan, composers of light opera. It was mainly designed by Walter Emden, and opened in 1889. Theatre architect expert, C. J. Phipps, who has a number of West End theatres to his name, was also consulted to overcome such obstacles as an underground river, with planning a build on such a difficult site. In the early days, the theatre was famous for receiving comedies and melodrama, but it now plays a wide range of theatrical genres. Early productions at the Garrick Theatre include The Wedding Guest, by J. M. Barrie, and The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith by Pinero. The theatre has staged a number of successful adaptations to stage including The Water Babies, based on a book by Charles Kinglsey, and more recently, Brighton Rock, from a book by Graham Green.
In 1968, a redevelopment of Covent Garden saw the Garrick Theatre, along with other nearby theatres, Vaudeville Theatre, Adelphi Theatre, Lyceum Theatre and Duchess Theatre, under threat. However, a campaign to restrict the redevelopment saw all of these theatres saved. There have been refurbishment projects on the interiors and exteriors of the Garrick Theatre to restore the original features of the building. More recent performances include an award-winning 1995 production of An Inspector Calls, and comedy from Ricky Gervais.
The theatre seats 1216, and seating is split into stalls, royal circle, grand circle and balcony. From the rear of the stalls and royal circle, a view of the top of the stage is restricted by the overhang. A metal bar runs along the front of the grand circle, obscuring the view from the front seats. The balcony is very far back from the stage; viewing and sound quality is poor, especially from the back.
There has been a theatre on the current site of Her Majesty’s Theatre since 1705. The original was established by architect and playwright John Vanbrugh. Since drama was prohibited by law in all but two London theatres, it began life as an opera house, playing host to premieres of a large number of operas. The theatre has always been named after the monarch, though its name changes when a monarch of the opposite sex takes the throne. The present building of Her Majesty’s Theatre was built in 1897, designed by C. J. Phipps. The owner, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
In the early 20th century, as well as Shakespeare, Tree produced premieres of plays by famous writers including Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. In the age of the musical, Her Majesty’s Theatre is particularly useful to its wide stage which will hold a large chorus. It has been host to two record-breakingly long theatre runs, Chu Chin Chow and The Phantom of the Opera.
The massive London Palladium seats 2286, and seating is split into stalls, royal circle and upper circle. The stage is high and therefore from the front rows of the stalls the back is outside the view of children and short adults. Further back in the stalls, the rake is steep, which compensates the far distance from the stage.
In general, due to the size of the theatre, the back of any tier will feel far way, but particularly the upper circle. A bar runs along the front of the upper circle, and rows A and B are designated restricted viewing because of it.
The site of the London Palladium was once home to Hengler’s Grand Cirque and the National Ice Skating Palace. The London Palladium, as it today stands, was designed by Frank Matcham, and it opened in 1910. It is best known for its variety performances, which were a regular feature since its opening. The Boxing Day opening night hosted the first ‘grand variety bill’, and The Royal Variety Performance and Sunday Night at the London Palladium, continued the variety tradition. Sunday Night at the London Palladium was hosted in the 1950s by a young Bruce Forsyth, who still presents into the 21st century.
Annual pantomimes attracted the biggest stars of the day, including Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 1966 and 1968. From this year, The London Palladium began to host a string of musicals, including The King and I (1979), Singing in the Rain (1989), and Jason Donovan and Philip Schofield run of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat (1991).
The London Palladium became a part of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group in 2000. In 2002, the famous revolving stage was removed to make way for a massive flying car, to form the centrepiece of the set for the world premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, reviving the 1968 film.
The theatre seats 1618, and seating is split into stalls, dress circle and grand circle. The front row of both the dress and grand circle may have restricted viewing due to a hand rail. Legroom in the dress circle is generally restricted. There are ‘loges’ and slip seats at dress circle level.
The loges are situated on projections from the front of the dress circle, five sets of short, enclosed rows. View from these is side-on, with obstructing safety bars for many. In the grand circle, the side blocks offer somewhat limited viewing angles.
There are two licensed bars, one at stalls and one at dress circle level. The tariff is the same as all Delfont Makintosh theatres, which is better value than other West End venues. Soft drinks are from £1.50 and beer and wine is from £4.50.
The Prince of Wales Theatre was commissioned by Edgar Bruce in 1883, originally called The Prince’s Theatre. It was deigned by C. J. Phipps, who had previously designed a number of West End theatres. The facade and decor were flowery, the foyer built in Moorish design, complete with fountain and grotto, and ornamental rocks and ferns. The orange and terracotta colour scheme for the seating has been restored to the upholstery today. In its early days, the theatre helped to popularise the art of mime in respectful theatre, which had previously been confined to circuses and pantomime.
In the 1930s and early ‘40s, the Prince of Wales Theatre became known for its gasp-making, blush-making Folies. According to the Daily Mail, it specialised in the show of the ‘tired business man’. These were incredibly popular. At their height, they ran continuously from 2pm to midnight, showing four times a day. In 1948, Mae West was a hit with Diamond Lil, and in the ‘50s, the Prince of Wales Theatre played variety performances with stars such as Bob Hope, Gracie Fields and Benny Hill.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love opened in 1989, playing to over 1 million people. Other musicals include West Side Story, Rent, and the British premiere of The Fully Monty. In 2003, Delfont Makintosh Group gave the theatre a £7.5 million refurbishment, reopening with a Gala performance of Mamma Mia!, attended by the Prince of Wales.