The Aldwych Theatre is a West End theatre, located in Aldwych in the City of Westminster. It was listed Grade II on 20 July 1971. Its seating capacity is 1,200 on three levels.
The Aldwych Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and constructed by Walter Wallis of Balham for Seymour Hicks in 1905. On its opening the Theatre had a stage of 31' 10" wide by 30' high and 37' deep, and an auditorium decorated in the Georgian Style with a capacity of 1,100.
The Theatre opened on Saturday the 23rd of December 1905 with a production of 'Blue Bell' which was a new rendition of 'Bluebell in Fairyland,' by Seymor Hicks and Walter Slaughter, first produced at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1901. The cast of the opening production at the Aldwych Theatre included Ellaline Terriss, Seymore Hicks, Barbara Deane, Topsy Sinden, Maudi Darrell, and Sydney Fairbrother. The audience at the opening of the Theatre were said to have been 'very appreciative'. Profits from the opening night were donated to the Queen's Fund for the unemployed.
The Theatre was constructed at the bottom corner of Drury Lane which also houses the fourth and present Theatre Royal Drury Lane which has been open since 1812, and the New London Theatre, formerly the Mogul Saloon / Middlesex Music Hall / Middlesex Theatre of Varieties and the Winter Garden Theatre.
The Aldwych Theatre was part of a vast new building consisting of the Aldwych Theatre itself, the Waldorf Hotel in the center, and at the far end, the Waldorf Theatre, now the Novello Theatre. Both Theatres were designed by W. G. R. Sprague and given identical exteriors.
'Mr Sprague has not only introduced into his architectural scheme the latest improvements in theatre construction, but has also made certain departures which are all in the right direction. The decorations are in the Georgian style and the general appearance of the interior of the building is pleasing in the extreme. Handsome and ornate it certainly is, but the words that correctly describe the impression conveyed by a first glance round, are cosy and comfortable. The prevailing scheme in crimson, cream and gold and the contrast with Rose du Barri draperies and upholstery is striking and artistically effective. One of the innovations that will be greatly appreciated by the male members of the audience is a commodious 'smokers' gallery' above the entrance hall.' - The ERA, 1905.
The Theatre was built as part of the Aldwych Reconstruction which began at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Four theatres were demolished when London's Aldwych, named after the Old Wych Street, was constructed. This vast operation began in the last years of the nineteenth century and was not finally completed until after the First World War. The Olympic Theatre in Wych Street and the Opera Comique in the Strand were closed in 1899, the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street shut its doors in 1902. This was followed by the closure of the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand in June of the same year.
The theatre opened on 23 December 1905 with a production of Blue Bell, a new version of Hicks's popular pantomime Bluebell in Fairyland. In 1906, Hicks's The Beauty of Bath, followed in 1907 by The Gay Gordons, played at the theatre. In February 1913 the theatre was used by Serge Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky for the first rehearsals of Le Sacre du Printemps before its première in Paris during May. In 1920, Basil Rathbone played Major Wharton in The Unknown.
From 1923 to 1933, the theatre was the home of the series of twelve farces, known as the Aldwych farces, most of which were written by Ben Travers. Members of the regular company for these farces included Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls, Ethel Coleridge, Gordon James, Mary Brough, Winifred Shotter and Robertson Hare. In 1933, Richard Tauber presented and starred in a new version of Das Dreimäderlhaus at the Aldwych under the title Lilac Time. From the mid-1930s until about 1960, the theatre was owned by the Abrahams family.
In 1949 Laurence Olivier directed the first London production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire at the Aldwych Theatre. Starring as Blanche DuBois was Olivier's wife Vivien Leigh, who later won an Academy Award for the role in the 1951 film of Williams's play. Bonar Colleano co-starred as Stanley.
On 15 December 1960, after intense speculation, it was announced that the Royal Shakespeare Company, headquartered in Stratford-upon-Avon and under the directorship of Peter Hall (director) was to make the Aldwych Theatre its base in London for the next three years. In the event the company stayed for over 20 years, finally moving to the Barbican Arts Centre in 1982. The theatre was sold to the Nederlander Organization immediately afterwards.
Among numerous RSC productions staged at this venue were The Wars of the Roses, "Ondine" with Peter Hall's wife Leslie Caron, The Greeks, and Nicholas Nickleby, as well as the transfer of most of the Shakespeare productions that were first staged at the RSC's Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford. During absences of the RSC, the theatre hosted the annual World Theatre Seasons, foreign plays in their original productions, invited to London by the theatre impresario Peter Daubeny, annually from 1964 to 1973 and finally in 1975. For his involvement with these Aldwych seasons, run without Arts Council or other official support, Daubeny won the Evening Standard special award in 1972.
In 1990–91, Joan Collins starred in a revival of Private Lives at the Aldwych. The theatre is referred to in Julio Cortázar's short story Instructions for John Howell (Instrucciones para John Howell) in the anthology All Fires the Fire (Todos los fuegos el fuego).
Since 2000, the theatre has hosted a mixture of plays, comedies and musical theatre productions. Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Whistle Down the Wind played until 2001, and Fame enjoyed an extended run from 2002 to 2006. From 2006 to 2011, it was the home to the British musical version of Dirty Dancing. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ran from 2015 to 2017. In March 2018, the theatre will open the world premiere of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
There are five steps leading up to the theatre foyer with handrails in place. The Stalls are accessed by 25 steps over three flights, which lead down from the theatre foyer to stalls front entrance. Once inside the stalls there is a 10 metre gentle incline from middle to rear stalls. Handrails are in place throughout.
The front of the Dress Circle is approximately 25 metres from the theatre foyer with step free access to Row C. Once inside the auditorium there are 22 steps from row A – M, two steps per row, with handrails in place. The rear of the Dress Circle can be accessed via 15 steps leading up from the theatre foyer, again with handrails in place.
The Grand Circle entrance is located inside the theatre foyer approximately 15 metres from the main entrance. There are 50+ steps leading to the rear of the Grand Circle and once inside the auditorium, there are 24+ steps leading from the rear of the Grand Circle, Row L, to Row A at the front. Handrails are in place throughout. Due to the number of stairs we do not recommend Grand Circle seating to patrons with restricted mobility. If you are not immediately approached on arrival to the theatre, please make yourself known to a member of our door staff to be introduced to your access host.
Wheelchair Access. Dress Circle, Row C seats 1 & 25. Accessible from street level, each seat can be removed to accommodate one wheelchair. Wheelchair space dimensions are 60cm width x 85cm depth and seat dimensions are 44cm width x 45cm depth (74cm including leg room).
Box E. Accessible from street level via a doorway measuring 63cm wide. The Box has accommodation for up to 2 wheelchairs users. Wheelchair space dimensions 60cm width x 85cm depth. Please note Box E gives a restricted view of the performance.
Toilets. The disabled access toilet is located in the theatre foyer and is accessible from street level. It is 45cm high and is a right-hand transfer. Non-disabled toilets are located in the theatre foyer, the rear stalls exit, grand circle rear exit, and the grand circle bar (six steps leading up).
Leg room. The following seats have nothing directly in front giving full leg room: Stalls C1 & C21, Row J1-5, Row J19-23 and Row Z1-2. Please note Z1-4 are partially upholstered flip-down seats with a restricted view of the performance.
Hearing-impaired. The Aldwych Theatre uses a Sennheiser Infrared Loop System, available from the cloakroom located in the theatre foyer. The system operates in the following seating areas: Stalls rows E – P, Dress Circle rows A – K, Grand rows A-C.
Guide dogs are welcome in the theatre. There are allocated seats in the auditorium for patrons wishing to stay with their dogs, alternatively a member of staff can be allocated to look after the guide dogs and return them to the owner during the interval and at the end of the performance.
Location : 49 Aldwych, London WC2B 4DF
Access Booking Office : 020 7836 5537
Tel: 0845 200 7981