The Vaudeville Theatre has taken many shapes and forms over the last century so that the current structure that stands on the site on the Strand retains only a few of the elements present when the venue first opened in 1870. But as the current structure itself dates back to 1926 there is still plenty of history to be found in the current building which, in recent years, has housed countless high profile shows from “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” to “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “An Ideal Husband”, amongst others. Its time in the West End has seen it welcome some of the most acclaimed stars of different generations and this is something that continues even in the modern day.
The architect behind the original design of the building – the one that opened its doors in 1870 – was C J Phipps, the prolific designer of other West End venues including the Savoy Theatre, the Garrick Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, amongst others, as well as various theatres across the country. Phipps returned to design the second structure on the site, which opened in 1891, with Robert Atkins stepping in to design the auditorium that opened with the venue’s current incarnation in 1926 (Phipps died in 1897).
Following the opening of the current building in 1926, the venue would go on to house a series of well known shows, retaining the name it was given back when it was the home of Vaudeville productions. Like many theatres, however, there was a large threat of demolition in the 1960s when plans were presented to redevelop Covent Garden. Along with various other theatres this could have led to the loss of the Vaudeville from the West End theatre landscape. Thankfully this did not happen and thanks to its listing as a Grade II structure, will avoid these kinds of mishaps in the future.
So the Vaudeville Theatre entered the new century with a great future ahead of it and in the last ten years it has been the home to some of the most famous shows in town including “Stomp”, which now resides at the Ambassadors Theatre. It has housed shows from “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” and “Private Lives” to “The Prisoner of Second Avenue”, welcoming stars from Diana Vickers and Kim Cattrall to Jeff Goldblum and Mercedes Ruehl.
The first show to appear at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1870, in the original building, was “For Love or Money” by Andrew Halliday, a dramatist and journalist who penned other shows such as “Kenilworth” and “The Pretty Horsebreaker”, amongst others. The show would be followed by “Don Carlos or the Infante in Arms” and was the first of a great deal of shows that would appear in the venue in the decades and century ahead. Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” was another production that audiences witnessed at the venue, before it changed hands and its new owners decided on a new venue altogether.
The second version of the Vaudeville Theatre, which opened in 1891, saw “Woodbarrow Farm” by Jerome K Jerome appear on its stage. Jerome is perhaps best known for his travelogue “Three Men in a Boat”, though he also penned well known plays such as “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” in 1908, amongst others. “Woodbarrow Farm” was the first of his plays, though he would go on to pen many others, in addition to the short stories and essays for which he was famous.
In this incarnation of the theatre, Seymour Hicks also appeared on its stage, including a production of “Quality Street”, which was penned by “Peter Pan” scribe J M Barrie. He wrote the play ahead of “Peter Pan” and it appeared at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1902 with its plot concerning two sisters that set up a school during Napoleonic times. It would run for more than 400 performances, which was a big achievement at the time, and as a result is one of the early successes for the West End venue.
Another is “Our Boys”, which appeared in the first incarnation of the Vaudeville in 1875. The show would go on for a then-unprecedented 1,000-plus performances, prompting the venue to be associated with the show for some time to come, with audiences referring to the venue by the title of the show instead of the Vaudeville.
The current incarnation of the Vaudeville Theatre opened in 1926 and the show that welcomed it back was “R.S.V.P” by Archie de Bear. Then, across the last century, it has continued to be the home of some stand-out productions, from “Stomp” at the beginning of the last decade, to others such as “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice”, “Private Lives” by Noel Coward, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “An Ideal Husband”.
Further Facts about the Vaudeville Theatre
• Famous names to appear here include Seymour Hicks, Christian Slater, Penelope Keith, Elena Roger, Henry Goodman, Ed Byrne, Marcus Brigstocke, Diana Vickers, Megan Mullally, Kim Cattrall, Matthew Macfadyen, Jeff Goldblum, Mercedes Ruehl and Samantha Bond, amongst others
• So long running was an early show entitled “Our Boys!” at the venue, bus conductors would announce the Vaudeville stop as the title of the show, rather than the venue.
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