The West End could not be mentioned without at some point referring to the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly Comedy Theatre) on Panton Street, a venue that has seen many well known screen actors appear on its stage in recent years as an array of different plays and musicals have passed through its doors. In the modern day it has developed a reputation for the wealth of different shows it has presented and in the past this also saw it take on the might of stage censorship to completely reshape the theatre scene in the capital. So the Harold Pinter Theatre is an integral part of the West End and is likely to continue to present stand out shows well into the future.
The venue is amongst the oldest still operating in the capital and first opened its doors in 1881. The architect who was provided the task of designing the venue was Thomas Verity and like many other architects that designed a London theatre, his work is not simply restricted to one venue. Not only did Verity also work on the Royal Albert Hall (assisting in its construction in the late 1860s), he also provided another West End theatre in the form of the Criterion. But with the Harold Pinter Theatre he would provide a venue that would go on to house a wide variety of productions, which continue to change, alternate and make the headlines today.
Perhaps the most significant part of the Harold Pinter Theatre’s history came in the 1950s and 1960s as this was when it played a large role in removing the constrictions of stage censorship, which had blighted so many productions in the capital up until that point. Lord Chamberlain’s office had been demanding to read and approve scripts ahead of their production since the 1840s and it was the Comedy that began to show work under the relaxed rules of the New Watergate Club.
And as a result it was able to welcome some brand new innovative productions and it has continued to stage some unique shows right up to the modern day – something that it will continue to do so thanks to its status as a Grade II listed building. From a recent production of “The Misanthrope” that starred Keira Knightley in a lead role to the acclaimed novel “Birdsong” adapted for the stage and appearing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2010, the venue has retained its place in the spotlight.
When the venue opened its doors it was originally known as the Royal Comedy Theatre and was built as a location in which audiences could witness some stand-out comic operas. The first of these took the form of 1881’s premiere production of “The Mascotte” and as the decade continued it would also welcome the opera “Falka”, the English version of the French opera “Le droit d'aînesse”. It was a show that would go on to appear on stages all over the world but, for the English speaking world at least, the first opportunity to witness the show was at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Another well known and popular production to premiere at the Harold Pinter Theatre was Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge”. Though the play had already appeared on the other side of the Atlantic, its UK premiere took place at the venue in 1956 and it would also be a show to be seen all over the world. After all, the work of Arthur Miller is considered by some to be the greatest of the last century and that makes the Harold Pinter Theatre an important part of the legacy. In more recent times the Harold Pinter Theatre has opened its doors to some unique and much-talked-about shows and one of these took the form of “Fat Pig”, from the American writer Neil LaBute.
It focuses on the obsession people have with their outer appearance as office worker Tom falls for the rather large Helen. Whilst the two of them are happy together, her larger-than-average frame leads to some snide remarks in the workplace and some of them are down-right cruel. Though show ran in 2008 and first opened its doors at the Trafalgar Studios, ahead of its run at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Perhaps one of the most high profile shows to appear in the last few years has been “The Misanthrope”. The Martin Crimp update of Moliere’s classic play saw Keira Knightley take on the role of Hollywood star Jennifer, whilst another screen actor in the form of Damian Lewis portrayed Alceste – the writer who has grown disillusioned with 21st century society. The show would earn Knightley a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award.
Then there is “Birdsong”, the play based on the enormously acclaimed and popular book by Sebastian Faulks, which sees a soldier drawing on romantic feelings for a woman in France to get him through the horrors of the First World War. It opened at the venue in 2010.
Further Facts about the Harold Pinter Theatre
• Famous names to appear at the Harold Pinter Theatre include Henry Daniell, Charles Blake Cochran, André Charlot, Samantha Bond, James Dreyfus, Michael Gambon, Robert Webb, Keira Knightley, Damian Lewis and Ben Barnes, amongst others.
• Another West End premiere for the venue includes the “Rocky Horror Show”.
|Thursday, 30 Mar, 2017||Harold Pinter Theatre, London||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
|Friday, 31 Mar, 2017||Harold Pinter Theatre, London||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
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|Tuesday, 04 Apr, 2017||Harold Pinter Theatre, London||Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
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