The Noel Coward Theatre, named for one of the greatest playwrights and performers that this country has produced, has a long history that stretches back more than a hundred years, during which time it has changed hands, changed shows and even managed to survive two world wars. As such it remains a vital part of the West End theatre scene and regularly provides an abundance of high quality shows for audiences to experience. From its early days as the New Theatre to its current occupation housing shows from “Avenue Q” to “Deathtrap”, the Noel Coward Theatre is likely to remain a vibrant centre for entertainment and arts well into the future.
The architect behind the Noel Coward Theatre is a familiar name in the West End – W G R Sprague - and working for Charles Wyndham he also provided the venue Wyndham’s Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Sprague was a prolific architect in the West End and was also behind the likes of the Aldwych Theatre, the Novello Theatre, the Gielgud Theatre, the Ambassador’s Theatre and the Queen’s Theatre, amongst others. But with the then-New Theatre he was designing something on land purchasing by Charles Wyndham, which he had originally planned to sell on. Instead the venue was born and over the next century would take on many different forms.
It remained the New Theatre right up until 1973 when it was felt necessary to pay tribute to Sir Bronson Albery, a well known theatre director who had managed the venue in the preceding years. So the venue became the Albery Theatre and this remained in place for many decades, before a large refurbishment project got under way and the venue reappeared in the London theatre scene as the Noel Coward Theatre, this time honouring the well known playwright and performer.
In the last decade the shows to appear at the Noel Coward have included the outrageous puppet show “Avenue Q” and the popular adaptation of the movie “Calendar Girls”. But perhaps it has been “Enron” that has caused the most excitement in recent years, having emerged from the Chichester Festival Theatre and then the Royal Court in the preceding year and becoming an enormously popular and critically acclaimed show. It seems that even after more than a century in the capital, the Noel Coward Theatre had lost none of its ability to impress.
The first production to appear at what was then known as the New Theatre in 1903 was “Rosemary” by Louise N Parker, a writer who had also penned various other works during his time, including “A Buried Talent”, “Joseph and his Bretheren” and “Disraeli”. But with “Rosemary”, audiences witnessed Charles Wyndham himself in a lead role alongside his wife Mary Moore.
Perhaps the most significant production to appear at the venue in its first few decades was “I’ll Leave it to You”. The play was the first penned by Noel Coward himself and as a result it is fitting that in the modern day the venue pays tribute to his work. Described as a ‘light comedy’, “I’ll Leave it to You” focuses on a wealthy family on hard times following the post-First World War recession. So when their uncle arrives claiming to have limited time to live, they realise that one them might benefit from his will and testament. Coward himself starred in the production that appeared at the New Theatre in 1920.
Another well known production to appear at the Noel Coward Theatre was “Richard of Bordeaux” in 1933. The show was penned by Gordon Daviot (Elizabeth Macintosh) and tells the story of Richard II of England, particularly his romance with Anne of Bohemia. The production had been penned after Daviot witnessed John Gielgud performing in the Shakespearean version of the role and Gielgud would be responsible for directing the show for the stage. The result was John Gielgud’s first commercial success story and he would go on to appear in various well known Shakespearean roles throughout the decade.
In more recent years the Noel Coward Theatre has continued to welcome some well known names to its productions, notably Lee Evans and Michael Gambon in a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame”, the absurdist play which features a master and servant that are dependent on one another, and the Master’s legless parents.
“Avenue Q” became the first production to appear at the newly named Noel Coward Theatre in 2006. The puppet show is often described as a cross between “South Park” and “Sesame Street” as it features outrageous characters and situations, in addition to songs like “The Internet is for Porn”.
A more recent success story for the venue has been “Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, which tells the story of a struggling playwright who takes on desperate measures to keep his name in the spotlight. Having opened in September 2010 it has been the latest in a long line of shows to keep audiences flocking to the Noel Coward Theatre.
Further Facts about the Noel Coward Theatre
In addition to the mentioned Noel Coward and John Gielgud, other famous names to appear at the venue include Toby Stephens, Corin Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Stewart, Roger Allam, Alex Guinness, Laurence Olivier, Helen Mirren, John Hurt and many more.
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