Shaftesbury Avenue has featured many different theatres over the centuries and currently calls itself the home to the Gielgud Theatre, the Lyric Theatre and the Queen’s Theatre, among others. However, the Apollo Theatre is perhaps best known for appearing on this street, largely due to the commonality of the name Apollo leading many to refer to it by the full title of Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. But it has been the wide range of shows and long history that have also contributed to its fame, having first opened its doors in 1901 and being the fourth venue to appear at its location.
One of the distinct factors concerning the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue is the fact that it was designed by the architect Lewin Sharp – as opposed to one of the famous four theatre architects Frank Matcham, C J Phipps, W G R Sprague and Bertie Crewe – for a man named Henry Lowenfield. However, those attending productions at the venue will be enjoying architecture designed by the man in charge of renovating the theatre in 1932 (Ernest Schaufelberg). But the fact remains that those witnessing a play at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue will also be taking a trip back in time.
Indeed, the original venue had to survive the First World War following its opening in 1901 and its renovated 1932 incarnation would then have to survive the Second World War. Today, however, there is no risk of it disappearing into the history books any time soon thanks to its current status as a listed building – just like many other West End theatres. As such it has been able to flourish across the decades and continued to put on some stand-out shows throughout.
In 1975 the Stoll Moss Group bought it and then by 2001, when the venue finally celebrated its 100th birthday, it fell into the hands of the Really Useful Group, with Nimax Theatres following. So it has changed hands and it has remained a vital part of a flourishing theatre scene.
Today it is regularly seen playing host to some of the best known plays in the capital, with some famous names amongst the award-winning cast members. As such audiences continue to attend shows at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue and will likely do so well into the future.
The first show to appear at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was a musical comedy entitled “The Belle of Bohemia” by Ludwig Englaender. Immediately 1901 international news outlets were reporting about the new venue to join the world’s stage, however it would be the follow-up productions to really make a name for the Apollo. One of these was the 1902 production of “The Girl from Kays” which featured lyrics from Adrian Ross and a book by Cecil Cook. The plot follows the farcical story of the girl referred to in the title, with a misguided kiss the focus of events. It appeared as part of a season of Edwardian musical comedies and would eventually transfer to another West End venue the Comedy Theatre.
By the 1920s the venue was welcoming some acclaimed actors and one of these was Laurence Olivier, who arrived in 1928 to appear in a production of “Journey’s End” by R C Sherriff. It is set during the First World War, with trench warfare continuing in Saint-Quentin, Aisne. Over four days audiences glimpse the life of officers in the infantry and it would become enormously popular after its premiere at the Apollo, with further productions and a movie adaptation following.
Decades later it was the turn of a long-running farce to begin its run, with “Boeing Boeing” arriving at the venue for its 1962 appearance. It would be the English-language premiere of the show and ensured that the Apollo Theatre would remain on the map, with Patrick Cargill and David Tomlinson amongst the cast. It follows a Parisian architect who manages to juggles three relationships at once with three flight attendants he calls his fiancé. He manages to keep track of them thanks to their schedules, but a brand new Boeing Jet has been introduced to the fleet and this disrupts the timetable, leading to some undesired results.
More recently the Apollo has been home to some acclaimed plays from writers like Noel Coward, Arthur Miller and the contemporary Jez Butterworth. From Coward there has been Blithe Spirit in 2011 and from Miller the acclaimed “All My Sons” in 2010. However, from Butterworth came the acclaimed Laurence Olivier-nominated production “Jerusalem”, which had already attracted a great deal of attention when it was seen at the Royal Court Theatre. With Mark Rylance among its cast, it follows a man as he attempts to juggle between his son and all the men that wish to do him harm.
Further Facts about the Apollo Theatre
• The famous names to appear at the Apollo Theatre include Laurence Olivier, John Clements, Sybil Thorndike, Albert Finnay, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Schofield, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Jonathan Pryce, Rosamund Pike, Josh Hartnett, Mark Rylance, Mackenzie Crook and David Suchet, among others.
Please enter your email address.