The Duke of York’s Theatre regularly houses acclaimed and prestigious productions and over the years these have provided it with large audiences, who relish in the performances of some acclaimed actors. Emerging in the last decade of the 19th century, it arrived in the theatre scene at the same time as some other well known venues that are still standing today and in its early days was known at the Trafalgar Square Theatre. Its history has been defined by the wealth of shows that it has welcomed, including the premieres of some of the best known stories in the world, making it an important part of the West End’s history.
The architect behind the then-Trafalgar Square Theatre was Walter Emden, a man who had also provided a wealth of other venues to the West End theatre scene. His other contributions included the Palace Theatre and the Garrick Theatre, as well as the London venue the Royal Court Theatre. So he stands up alongside the likes of W G R Sprague and C J Phipps (the latter working with Emden on the Garrick) as a prolific theatre architect for the capital.
Though the original name of the venue was the Trafalgar Square Theatre, it would be changed to the Trafalgar Theatre only two years later in 1894, before becoming the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1895. Its name refers to the then-Duke of York, who would later become King George V, and under this name it has been used to bring a wealth of stories to the masses.
Across the 20th century it would remain in its original form and also managed to survive the onslaught of two world wars, progressing to the 1970s when it closed its doors in order for refurbishments to take place.
Since it reopened it has been the home of some well-remembered classic shows and this has included a recent production entitled “Ghost Stories”, a transfer from the Lyric Hammersmith that features a story by Andy Nyman (a magician and actor) and Jeremy Dyson (the unseen member of “The League of Gentlemen”). During the course of its run it has scared many punters and received considerable critical acclaim from the press, making it one of the latest additions to the Duke of York’s long list of success stories.
The first show to appear at the venue took the form of an opera entitled “The Wedding Eve”, which was written by F. Toulmouche. “The Wedding Eve” was an adaptation from a French text, though it did not find the audience that the management was perhaps looking for, leading to its early closure. Michael Levenston was in charge of the venue at the time and he would oversee a great deal of shows in 1892, before moving on to other projects as the decade progressed.
But an early success for the then-Trafalgar Square Theatre was “Go Bang” by Adrian Ross and F Osmond Carr in 1894. Despite some competition from other theatres in the capital it managed to impress with its imaginative songs and as a result managed to attract an audience. The bizarre plot had a representative from an Asian country travelling to England to observe Western culture and finds it hard to get accustomed to. Along the way he falls in love with a girl and complications ensue.
The Duke of York’s then went on contribute to the world of opera as it staged the play of “Madame Butterfly”, based on the short story by John Luther Long. Amongst the audience members that witnessed the production when it appeared at the now-Duke of York’s Theatre in 1900 was Giacomo Puccini – the man that would immortalise the story as one of the most famous operas of all time.
But “Madame Butterfly” was not the only famous story to have its origins at the Duke of York’s Theatre and the venue also famously housed “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” in 1904. J M Barrie’s classic would have a huge effect and the story has since been told in many different shapes and forms, from books and movies to the famous Disney animation in 1953. The West End continues to house productions of the story, including a state-of-the-art production of “Peter Pan” that appeared in Kensington Gardens in 2009.
Recent years have continued to see famous shows appear at the Duke of York’s. Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” has appeared here, including a recent production of “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard. More recently, in 2010, the venue has been used as the West End home of the Lyric Hammersmith production “Ghost Stories”, which sees Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s spooky tale providing London theatregoers with some spooky treats.
Further Facts about the Duke of York’s Theatre
Famous names to appear at the Duke of York’s Theatre include Nicholas Lyndhurst, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Dominic West, Alistair McGowan, Orlando Bloom, Matt Smith, Catherine Tate, David Walliams, Ken Stott, Samantha Bond, Ed Stoppard, John Simm, Any Nyman and Reece Shearsmith, amongst others
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