A relatively recent addition to the West End landscape, the Leicester Square Theatre is a studio theatre that is situated on Leicester Square in London and originally appeared on the scene in the 1950s as the Notre Dame Hall. Since then, as the century has progressed, it has regularly changed hands and this has meant that not only have various different types of performances appeared here, it has also changed in appearance, eventually becoming the venue in 2001. So across the last decade it has provided a smaller, more intimate, space for a variety of shows to arrive in the capital, whether they are small-scale musicals, stand up comedy performances, or unique and original plays. It became the Leicester Square Theatre in 2008.
The site on which the Leicester Square Theatre stands originally housed a building destroyed by a bombing during the Second World War. What replaced it was the Notre Dame Hall, which opened its doors in 1953, meaning that the theatre that stands on Leicester Square today is a relatively recent addition to the London theatre landscape, with other venues from the Wyndham’s Theatre to the Adelphi Theatre and beyond dating back much further, often to the 19th century. But this has not stopped it from flourishing as an important place to witness some stand out production as it has seen many well known names and talents step onto its stage.
As the Notre Dame Hall the venue would first be used as a French cultural centre, which it is suited to thanks to its position beneath the Notre Dame French Catholic Church. Then its purpose would change and over time it would welcome various bands and this would go on for many decades, becoming an integral part of the punk music era and introducing an array of well known groups.
Eventually it would become The Venue, a brand New London Theatre that was built in 2001 and opened its doors for the first time in 2002 with a well known musical from Boy George. Since that day it has gone on to welcome even further acts, in addition to further shows at the Leicester Square Basement Theatre. So whilst the venue does not date back to Victorian London or the theatre boom of 1930 it is still an important part of the scene and a venue that regularly houses some stand out shows.
The very first production to open its doors at the Leicester Square Theatre was the well known musical from Boy George entitled “Taboo”, which appeared in 2002 and featured the comedian Matt Lucas of “Little Britain” fame amongst its cast members. Taking some of its cues from the New Romantic era of the 1980s the musical focuses on the London nightclub Taboo and the regulars that inhabit it. Amongst them is Boy George himself, though in reality he rarely made his way to the club during its time from 1985 to 1987. The show would also appear on Broadway under the management of Rosie O’Donnell.
Various shows have appeared since, including “Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens” in 2005, with “The Vegemite Tales” arriving the following summer. The latter is an Australian play that had also been seen at The Curtain’s Up and the Riverside Studios in London, depicting a group of friends sharing a flat in London. During its run in 2006 it would feature Blair McDonough amongst its cast members, best known to audiences as Stuart Parker in the hit Australian soap “Neighbours”. The show would be successful enough to return for another run the following year and it has proven to be a much-appreciated production.
Joan Rivers would also appear on the stage of the theatre in 2008, the same year in which The Venue became Leicester Square Theatre, with her show “Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress”, which would see her make her acting debut. The show had also appeared at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe earlier that year and had also appeared at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles.
2009 saw the Leicester Square Theatre welcome another successful production to its stage, this time in the form of “Hit Me! The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury”, which was popuar enough to warrant a return to the West End in 2010, this time at the Garrick Theatre. As the title suggests, the musical looks at the life of the late Blockheads singer Ian Dury, who was also immortalised by Andy Serkis in the movie “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”. Songs such as “Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” make an appearance in the popular show.
Other shows to appear at The Venue/ Leicester Square Theatre over the last decade include “Side by Side by Sondheim”, “Alex”, “Frisky and Mannish’s School of Pop” and “A Guide To Sexual Misery”, amongst others.
Further Facts about the Leicester Square Theatre
• The venue should not be confused with another Leicester Square Theatre that existed in the area, which is now the Odeon West End
• Famous names to appear here include Boy George, Matt Lucas, Blair McDonough, Joan Rivers, plus various comedians from the stand-up circuit.
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