The West End’s Fortune Theatre holds various distinctions, one of which taking the form of its status as the home of one of the capital’s longest running shows – “The Woman in Black”. Like shows such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables”, the show has been around since the 1980s and just like the former, “The Woman in Black” has remained at its original home since it first opened. The Fortune also has the distinction of being the first West End theatre to emerge onto the scene following the end of the First World War, ahead of others that sprung up over the next decade such as the Piccadilly Theatre and others.
But whereas the Piccadilly Theatre was designed by an architect responsible for a host of other theatres (Bertie Crewe), the Fortune was built by Ernest Schaufelberg in Russell Street, where it was erected for the playwright Laurence Cowen, whose show “Sinners” took centre stage as its premiere production. It would then go on to stage further shows until it welcomed to its stage an array of specialised shows during the Second World War – in particular performances hosted by ENSA, who were the concert party part of the Armed Forces.
It had made its mark and lived up to its name, which had been derived from various other London theatres that had stood in previous centuries, for example the first Fortune Theatre, which arrived on the same site in 1600.
After the Second World War the theatre would thrive as the home of a great deal of well-received shows starring some of the most acclaimed actors and actresses working in the United Kingdom. Add to this list various comedians and well-received acts and you get the make-up of a venue that has enjoyed a great first century in London.
And as the venue has since been Grade II listed as a venue of historical importance, it can expect to stay at its site on Russell Street well into the future, where it will continue to host a number of well known shows. Whether this takes the form of the ongoing production of “The Woman in Black”, or another show altogether, remains to be seen. But the theatre is likely to remain in the headlines whatever the case.
Over the years the Fortune Theatre has been the home to a wide range of different shows, which have reflected various different eras in its history, beginning with its early years under the watch of Laurence Cowen. The theatre was built for the author and playwright and it would be his play “Sinners” that would make its way to the stage when it first opened in 1922. Though it only lasted for a limited amount of time it would lay the foundations of a great century ahead, which would welcome a great deal of actors and performers.
As mentioned, during the Second World War the ENSA would regularly stage shows for the Fortune audience, with various different entertainers from the Armed Forces making their way to the stage. Then, once the war was over the first show to appear on its stage would take the form of “Fools Rush In”, a play from the English comedian Kenneth Horne, who also appeared in various radio comedies in the same era, making him a well known star whose legacy lives on today.
And in further post-war years it would welcome further well known shows and eventually, an array of well known names who would go on to become national treasures, with the “Beyond the Fringe” revue appearing in later decades and with it a host of future comedians, from Dudley Moore to Peter Cook.
But in the modern day, audiences arriving at the Fortune Theatre will, of course, be flocking to witness the long running play “The Woman in Black”, which has been running since 1989 and has been seen by thousands of people.
“The Woman in Black” was originally a novel by Susan Hill and tells of ghostly goings-on in an English manor house. It was adapted to the stage by Stephen Mallatratt and in addition to its run at the Fortune it was previously seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-Round in Scarborough and has since been seen at venues across the country on national tours.
It chronicles an early case of the solicitor Arthur Kipps, who relays his tale to an actor who will portray the story on stage. In his account, Kipps is a young solicitor arriving in an English village following the death of Mrs Alice Drablow, who owned the large Eel Marsh House. After witnessing a spectral woman in black at the funeral, Kipps knows something isn’t right and when the local people refuse to speak up he realises the answers can only be found in the large and ominous house.
Further Facts about The Fortune Theatre
• Famous names to appear at the Fortune Theatre over the years include Judi Dench, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Maureen Lipman, Alan Bennett and more.
• “The Woman in Black” is the sixth longest-running show ever to appear in the West End, behind The Mousetrap, “Les Miserables”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Blood Brothers” and “Cats”.
|Thursday, 19 Jan, 2017||Fortune Theatre, London||The Woman in Black|
|Friday, 20 Jan, 2017||Fortune Theatre, London||The Woman in Black|
|Saturday, 21 Jan, 2017||Fortune Theatre, London||The Woman in Black|
|Tuesday, 24 Jan, 2017||Fortune Theatre, London||The Woman in Black|
|Wednesday, 25 Jan, 2017||Fortune Theatre, London||The Woman in Black|
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