Ambassadors Theatre

One of the smallest theatres in the West End sits quietly off of Charing Cross Road.

Designed by W G R Sprague, who also designed the neighbouring St Martin’s Theatre, the Ambassadors Theatre opened on 5th June 1913.

The theatre’s first production – Monckton Hoffe’s Panthea – only survived 15 nights, but this was not to be a sign of the theatre’s future successes.

Address: Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London, WC2H 9ND

Nearest Stations: Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line)

Nearby Hotels: The Z Hotel Soho, Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street, Kettner’s

Capacity: 444 across two tiers (Stalls and Dress Circle)

1924 introduced London audiences to the great Ivor Novello, making his stage debut in Deburau. The inter-war period also saw the Ambassadors Theatre launch the stage career of Vivien Leigh, who made her stage debut aged 22 in The Mask of Virtue.

History was made on West Street in 1952 with the opening of the world’s longest running stage production: Agatha Christie’s who-dunnit The Mousetrap.

The production played at the Ambassadors Theatre for 21 years before moving next door (to the St Martin’s Theatre), benefitting from their larger auditorium.

The late 1990s marked a new period of transformation for the theatre, as it was carved into two separate studio making space for a Royal Court Theatre residency (1996-1999).

The new millenium saw the theatre returned to its original design, and renamed the New Ambassadors Theatre for just short of a decade.

The New Ambassadors Theatre – as it was – hosted several plays and comedies, making use of the venue’s intimacy.

More recently the theatre has seen an increase of musical theatre productions, including the Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Little Shop of Horrors and the decade-long run of Stomp (2007-2018).

Since the departure of Stomp, the theatre has played host to a series of short-run productions, including the London premiere of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole – The Musical (2019).

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Aldwych Theatre

Following a 14-week renovation in 2017, the Aldwych Theatre continues to delight West End audiences in its second century.

The Grade-II listed theatre was built in 1905, to the right-hand of Lord Astor’s Waldorf Hotel, which opened to the public three years later.

The theatre features an identical facade to the Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre), which stands on the other side of the Waldorf Hotel, and opened 7 months before.

Address: Aldwych Theatre, 49 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4DF

Nearest Stations: Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Lines, Mainline); Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line); Holborn (Central and Piccadilly Lines); Temple (Circle and District Lines).

Nearby Hotels: The Waldorf Hilton, ME Hotel, One Aldwych

Capacity: 1,000 across three tiers (Stalls, Dress Circle and Grand Circle)

In the early years of the Aldwych Theatre, musical comedies took to the stage. These productions often featured the theatre’s manager Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss.

There followed a period that would see the theatre associated so strongly with farce that such comedies were referred to as ‘The Aldwych Farces’.

Following the Second World War, the theatre shifted its focus towards plays, and saw a string of top quality productions, including Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire and Peter Sellers in Brouhaha.

December 1960 marked another momentous progression in the theatre’s story. The Royal Shakespeare Company moved in for what would become a 21-year residency. Every well-known British actor trod the Aldwych boards during the time in a varied programme of productions.

Following the departure of the RSC in 1981, the theatre maintained its focus on plays, including the 1993 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which starred Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Bracknell.

Since 2002, the Aldwych Theatre has joined the West End trend for musical theatre with a series of successful runs.

The first musical to take to the Aldwych stage was Fame! The Musical, which enjoyed a three and a half year run.

Dirty Dancing became the theatre’s longest running production in the late noughties (2006-2011), before a series of short runs including the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward, which opened in December 2013.

Just over a year later, the European premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical won audiences’ hearts and was nominated for eight Olivier Awards in 2015.

From 17th April 2018, audiences have been singing along to the hits of Tina Turner in Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.

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Adelphi Theatre

Adelphi Theatre, London

A theatre has stood on the site of the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand since 1806, originally called the Sans Pareil.

The original theatre was built by businessman John Scott who wanted a stage for his talented writer-pianist daughter Jane, who he thought was “without compare”… hence the theatre’s name.

Following 14 years and more than 50 Jane Scott productions, her father sold the theatre in 1819 to Jones and Rodwell. It was at this time that the theatre came to be known as The Adelphi.

Address: Adelphi Theatre, Strand, London, WC2R 0NS

Nearest Stations: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern, Mainline); Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line); Embankment (Circle and Disctrict Lines)

Nearby Hotels: The Savoy, The Strand Palace, The Waldorf Hilton

Capacity: 1,500 across three tiers (stalls, dress circle and upper circle).

During Jones and Rodwell’s years at the helm, the Aldephi was home to many controversial productions – causing much upset amongst the complainers, and reliably keeping the punters coming through the doors.

The theatre has been sold and renamed multiple times over the years. Notably, the Gatti brothers brought the theatre into the modern age with two grand reconstruction projects – in 1901 and subsequently in 1930.

The art deco features of the latter Gatti project can still be enjoyed by visitors today.

Despite a scary moment which saw Woolworths attempt to turn the theatre into a supermarket, the Adelphi Theatre has hosted many successful productions in recent years.

Andrew Lloyd Webber bought the theatre in 1993 and did it up ahead of the world premiere of his musical Sunset Boulevard. Other Lloyd Webber musicals have followed, including Evita (2006), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2007) and the world premiere of Love Never Dies (2010).

The 1997 production of Chicago claims the title of longest-running production at the Adelphi, when it transferred to the Cambridge Theatre after 9 years on the Strand.

And after 3 years of sharing “the most beautiful thing in the world” with Kinky Boots audiences, the Adelphi Theatre opened its doors to Sara Bareilles’s smash-hit musical Waitress.

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Helen Edmundson’s Stage Adaptation of Small Island is a fantastic tribute to the late Andrea Levy

Small Island - National Theatre - 2019
8.7front row score

This powerful stage production of Andrea Levy‘s Windrush-inspired novel opened at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre) in London, on the 1 May 2019 – two and a half months after the lady who originally penned the story passed away.

This production has now closed.

Andrea Levy’s epic novel, which won the Orange Prize for literature, tells the shared story of Britons in Britain and the Caribbean through the Second World War to 1948 – the same year that the HMT Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury.

Adapted for stage by Helen Edmundson and directed by Rufus Norris, Small Island features a huge cast of 40, who manage to control the vast Oliver stage – allowing for moments of bleak emptiness amidst chaotic scenes of frenzied crowd activity.

The story movingly presents Britain as an all-too-comfortable home of deep-seated racial discrimination whilst simultaneously offering a more hopeful view of a movement towards racial integration.

WATCH THE TRAILER: Small Island at the National Theatre (Run ends of 10 August 2019)

Hortense (Leah Harvey) yearns for a new life away from rural Jamaica, where she’s been raised by her strictly God-fearing Aunt and Uncle. Her cousin Michael (CJ Beckford) rejects his parents’ orthodox ways, and signs up to join the RAF in World War II.

Through Michael and her husband Gilbert (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr), Hortense’s story becomes intricately entangled with Queenie (Aisling Loftus) from Lancashire and her awkward London bank-clerk husband.

The set, designed by Katrina Lindsay, makes good use of the wide angles in the Olivier Theatre. A wide upstage-centre entrance is strikingly reminiscent of an aircraft hangar, opening and closing its doors to Spitfires through the War. A clever use of understage lifts, built into a large revolve, adds a further touch of style to Rufus Norris’ expertly choreographed scene changes.

Projecting onto a wide, curving back-wall, Lindsay’s set can be likened to Rae Smith’s minimalist design for War Horse (which galloped from this same stage more than a decade ago).

Her use of projection was subtle and useful in maintaining a sense of location in a play which jumps between Jamaica and England throughout.

A story of togetherness and dividedness. This is an important story for understanding the personal impact of the former British Empire on its subjects so many thousands of miles apart.

Small Island opened at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre) in London on 1 May 2019 and closed on 10 August 2019.

Running Time: 3 Hours, including a 20 minute interval.

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