Apollo Theatre Facade

Apollo Theatre Facade

Apollo Theatre Interior

Apollo Theatre Interior


The Apollo Theatre is a Grade II listed West End theatre, on Shaftesbury Avenue in the City of Westminster, in central London. Designed by the architect Lewin Sharp for owner Henry Lowenfeld, it became the fourth legitimate theatre to be constructed on the street when it opened its doors on 21 February 1901, with the American musical comedy The Belle of Bohemia.

TThe Apollo Theatre is situated on London's Shaftesbury Avenue next door to the earlier Lyric Theatre of 1888. Originally intended to be called the Mascot Theatre it eventually opened as the Apollo Theatre on the 21st of February 1901 with a production by George Lederer of 'The Belle of Bohemia', an American comedy with music, from a book by Harry B. Smith, and music by Ludwig Englander. This was not a great success however and was soon taken off.

The Theatre was designed by the architect Lewin Sharp and was his only complete Theatre design, although he was also the architect for major alterations to the Camberwell Palace in 1908. The Theatre was built for the owner Henry Lowenfeld and constructed by Walter Wallis with an exterior designed in the Renaissance style, and an auditorium constructed on four levels with three cantilevered balconies, decorated in the Louis XIV style, although this would be altered by Ernest Shaufelberg in 1932. The four figures which are still in situ on the top of the facade of the Theatre today were created by Frederick Thomas, of Gloucester and Cheltenham, for the Theatre's opening and represent Poetry, Music, Comedy and Dance.

Henry Lowenfeld had bought land on the newly created Shaftesbury Avenue at the turn of the 20th century—next door to the Lyric Theatre, which opened in 1888—and as a consequence the Apollo is one of the few theatres in London to be freehold. The only complete theatre design of architect Lewin Sharp, the Apollo was specifically designed for musical theatre and named after the Greek god of the arts and leader of the muses. It was constructed by builder Walter Wallis of plain London brick in keeping with the neighbouring streets; the front piece is in the Renaissance style with a sculpted stone fascia by T. Simpson. The structure encloses a four-level auditorium, with three cantilevered balconies and a first-floor central loggia, decorated in the Louis XIV Style by Hubert van Hooydonk. In keeping with then European style, each level has its own foyer and promenade.

Owing to the death of Queen Victoria the previous month, it became the first London theatre to be completed in the Edwardian period. The capacity on the opening night, 21 February 1901, was 893, with a proscenium of 9.14 metres (30.0 feet) wide and 8.89 metres (29.2 feet) deep. The capacity today is 775 seats, with the balcony on the 3rd tier considered the steepest in London.

The Apollo was the fourth Theatre to be built on the newly constructed Shaftesbury Avenue which was completed in 1887. The first was the original Shaftesbury Theatre, which opened in 1888 and was destroyed during the second world war on the 17th of April 1941. Next to be built was the Lyric Theatre which opened in December of the same year, 1888. Next was the Royal English Opera House, later to become The Palace Theatre, this opened in 1891, and next was the Apollo in 1901.

The opening night souvenir programme stated:- 'In the dress circle can be seen the mascot of the theatre, the original badge of the German tribe of gipsies who are connected with Mr Lowenfeld's family estate in Poland. It is a silver chain and buckle, on the buckle being a flying lizard supported dexter and sinister by lions rampant. This device is supposed to bring good luck and is reproduced in the scheme of decoration.'

The Stage Newspaper reported on the opening of the Apollo Theatre the day the Theatre opened in their February 21st 1901 edition saying:- 'An "inauguration performance," to which admission is to be gained by invitation only, will be given this evening at Mr. Lowenfeld's new theatre, the public opening being deferred until Friday. A private view of the new home, which adjoins the Lyric in Shaftesbury Avenue, was given on Saturday last, and it was generally agreed that London has, in its latest addition to the list of playhouses, one of the handsomest and best arranged.

With a facade in the French Renaissance style, the building is constructed entirely of stone, brick, and steel, and affords a seating capacity for 1,200 persons, each of whom - for the theatre is pillarless - is guaranteed a complete view of the stage. Special pains have been taken to secure effective ventilation without draughts. The decorations are in crimson, white, and gold, and the aim has been to provide a feast of colour. The act-drop represents a picture from Watteau, and is the work of Mr. Hubert Hooydonk.

The stage is large enough for the production of the most elaborate plays, and all the labour-saving appliances for the handling of scenery are provided. The dressing-rooms, with the exception of five, occupy a separate block, with a rehearsal-room. The lighting is electric throughout, and to provide against breakdown two separate companies, each with two circuits, furnish the light. The two special novelties are in the arrangement of the orchestra and the lighting of the stage. The construction of the orchestra - invented by Mr. Lowenfeld, intended to produce the proper relation in the sound of the various instruments to each other, and to avoid any possible muffling by loss of tonality. The floor space of the orchestra is in the form of a hollow oval, and the surface is hard and highly aimed. A wooden sounding-board is placed over this hollow surface, and a three-tier rostrum on glass legs stands on the sounding-board. The violins are placed on the highest tier, the wood, wind, and remaining strings on the next, whilst the lowest part is assigned to the brass and drums. By this means the thin violin sound waves rise before being mixed with the stronger wood, wind, and bass sounds, whilst the bass and drums are so removed that they do not interfere with either. The hollow floor and sounding-board truly reflect the whole mass of tone. The ides is a free adaptation of Richard Wagner's construction at Bayreuth...

...A novel method of throwing light direct on the faces of the actors, also stated to have been invented by Mr. Lowenfeld, has here for the first time been practically carried into effect. From a space between the stalls and dress circle boxes limelights illuminate the stage on the level of the actors' faces without destroying the illusion, as lights thrown from the circle do, a plan frequently adopted in America. By means of the scheme now adopted the faces are lit directly from the front and equally from both sides, so that the objectionable shadows are avoided. This plan is quite new, and may require experimental perfecting, but it seems a step in the direction of ultimately realising Professor Herkomer's dream of abolishing the footlights.'

In 1996, the venue was bought by its namesake the Ambassador Theatre Group, now the largest operator of theatres in the West End. It was first split into two small spaces, by creating a false floor at circle level, and used by the Royal Court. Then in 1999 the venue was returned to its original design, renamed the New Ambassadors and hosted niche works and plays not normally seen outside of smaller fringe venues. However, within a few years the theatre had largely reverted to playing material seen as more commercially viable for its location in the West End.

The opening caused a public uproar, with a selected audience for the first performance, on Thursday 21 February 1901, and the first public performance scheduled for 22 February. The Times refused to review the private opening, instead waiting until the first public production on the following day. The opening production was the American musical comedy The Belle of Bohemia, which survived for 72 performances — 17 more than it had accomplished when produced on Broadway. The production was followed by John Martin-Harvey's season, including A Cigarette Maker's Romance and The Only Way, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

George Edwardes produced a series of successful Edwardian musical comedies, including Kitty Grey (1901), Three Little Maids and The Girl from Kays (1902). An English version of André Messager's light opera Véronique became a hit in 1904, starring with Ruth Vincent, who also starred in Edward German's Tom Jones in 1907 in which Cicely Courtneidge made her London debut. Between 1908 and 1912 the theatre hosted H. G. Pelissier's The Follies. After this it staged a variety of works, including seasons of plays by Charles Hawtrey in 1913, 1914 and 1924, and Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice in 1916. Inside the Lines by Earl Derr Biggers ran for 421 performances in 1917. Gilbert Dayle's What Would a Gentleman Do? played in 1918 and Tilly of Bloomsbury by Ian Hay was the success in 1919.

George Grossmith, Jr. and Edward Laurillard managed the theatre from 1920 to 1923, presenting a series of plays and revivals, including Such a Nice Young Man by H.F. Maltby (1920) and the stage version of George Du Maurier's novel Trilby (1922). They had produced The Only Girl here in 1916 and Tilly of Bloomsbury in 1919. The Fake was produced in 1924, starring Godfrey Tearle. 1927 saw Abie's Irish Rose and Whispering Wires, with Henry Daniel. The next year, Laurence Olivier starred in R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End. Seán O'Casey's The Silver Tassie and Ivor Novello's A Symphony in Two Flats both played in 1929. Diana Wynyard starred as Charlotte Brontë in Clemence Dane's Wild Decembers in 1932. Marion Lorne was the star of a number of plays by her husband Walter Hackett from 1934 to 1937. Ian Hay's Housemaster had the most successful run in this period with 662 performances from 1936. Raymond Massey starred in Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning Idiot's Delight in 1938. Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light held the stage in 1939, and Terence Rattigan's Flare Path played in 1942.

Control of the theatre transferred to Prince Littler in 1944. John Clements and Kay Hammond starred that year in a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives, and Margaret Rutherford starred in The Happiest Days of Your Life in 1948, followed by Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson in Treasure Hunt, directed by John Gielgud in 1949. After this, Seagulls Over Sorrento ran for over three years beginning in 1950. The theatre's longest run was the comedy Boeing-Boeing, starring Patrick Cargill and David Tomlinson, which opened in 1962 and transferred to the Duchess Theatre in 1965. In 1968 Gielgud starred in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On, and in 1969 he returned in David Storey's Home, with Ralph Richardson. He returned to the theatre in 1988, at the age of 83, in The Best of Friends by Hugh Whitemore.

A number of hit comedies transferred to or from the theatre in the 1970s and 1980s, and other important plays here during the period included Rattigan's Separate Tables, with John Mills in 1976, Lyle Kessler's Orphans in 1986 with Albert Finney, I'm Not Rappaport the same year, with Paul Scofield, and Dorothy Tutin, Eileen Atkins and Siân Phillips in Thursday's Ladies in 1987. Driving Miss Daisy played in 1988, starring Wendy Hiller, and 1989 saw Zoë Wanamaker in Mrs Klein, Vanessa Redgrave in A Madhouse in Goa, Thunderbirds FAB starring Andrew Dawson and Gavin Robertson, and Peter O'Toole in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell. Penelope Wilton starred in Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea in 1993, and In Praise of Love played in 1995 with Peter Bowles. Mark Little starred in the Laurence Olivier Award-winning one-man show, Defending the Caveman in 1999.

On 19 December 2013, at about 20:15 GMT, 10 square metres (110 sq feet) of the auditorium's ornate plasterwork ceiling collapsed around 40 minutes into a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It brought down a lighting rig and a section of balcony, thereby trapping two people and injuring around 88, including seven seriously. There were 720 people in the audience at the time. The incident was preceded by heavy rain.

The emergency services responded with 25 ambulance crews, an air ambulance rapid response team, 8 fire engines with more than 50 firefighters, and the Metropolitan Police. Casualties were taken to the foyers of the adjacent Gielgud and Queen's theatres, where the emergency services could triage. The London Ambulance Service later stated that they had treated 76 injured people, with 58 taken to four London hospitals, some on commandeered buses. Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust said 34 adults and 5 children were subsequently treated in accident and emergency at St Thomas' Hospital.

The venue reopened on 26 March 2014, with an adaptation of Let the Right One In produced by the National Theatre of Scotland. The owners were able to reopen the theatre by sealing the fourth level and balcony with a temporary floor, which allowed investigators to continue their work in determining the cause of the collapse.

'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' will be playing until 21st April, 2018. John McCrea, Josie Walker, Tamsin Carroll, Mina Anwar, Lucie Shorthouse and Phil Nichol lead a twenty-four strong company and an eight-piece band that ‘sends you out on a feel-good bubble of happiness’ Daily Telegraph. Hailed as ‘Billy Elliot for today’s generation’ WHATSONSTAGE, this fabulous, funny, feel-good brand new musical sensation hits London with catchy new songs by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling, Dan Gillespie Sells, and writer Tom MacRae. Sixteen: the edge of possibility. Time to make your dreams come true.

Wheelchair user access is provided using a platform lift to the Stalls. Please report to the main entrance on arrival and a member of staff will accompany you to the wheelchair access entrance. Maximum weight is 300kg. Stalls Q1 and Q22 can be removed to provide wheelchair spaces.

There is a fully adapted unisex toilet in the Stalls. There are Ladies and Gentlemen’s toilets on all levels, except the Dress Circle.

The theatre bars are located in the Stalls, Grand Circle and Balcony. A member of theatre staff will offer assistance purchasing beverages on behalf of customers. Programmes and Ice Creams are available in the auditorium. The theatre is fitted with a Williams Sound hearing assistance system. Headsets are available on a first come first served basis.

Guide dogs and hearing dogs are welcome. For comfort they recommend purchasing a seat on the end of a row. Alternatively they provide a dog sitting service for 2 dogs at a time; advance booking is recommended.

To access the auditorium there are 22 stairs to the Stalls and 12 stairs to the Dress Circle. There are a further 11 stairs down to the stalls bar.

There will be a captioned performance of 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' at the Apollo Theatre on Tuesday 6 February 2018, 7.30pm. Captioning provides deaf, deafened and hard of hearing theatregoers access to live performance by converting speech into visible text and displaying it on an electronic screen. Patrons will be seated seated in the Dress Circle with captions screens in the Dress Circle boxes. Access email: access@nimaxtheatres.com.

There will be an audio described performance of 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' at the Apollo Theatre on Tuesday 20 February 2018, 7.30pm. Audio description improves access for visually impaired theatregoers by providing a live verbal commentary on the visual elements of a production broadcast through a headset. Pre-show touch tour at 6pm. Access email: access@nimaxtheatres.com. Access Line: 0330 333 4815.


Location : Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 7ES

Transport: Transport: Charing Cross (National Rail). Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo Line, Piccadilly Line). London Buses routes 1, 14, 19, 22, 24, 29, 38, 55 and 176 stop closeby.

Seating Plan

Access Line : 0330 333 4815

Tel: 0330 333 4809