Dates: 1963 – present
About the May Fair Theatre, 1977
From theatre programme, 1977
The May Fair is unique among London’s West End theatres in that it is contained within the walls of an hotel. The May Fair Hotel has stood in Stratton and Berkeley Streets since 1927. One of the popular features of the Hotel during the 1930s and ’40s was The Candlelight Room. Here both Harry Roy and Ambrose with their bands played for patrons.
During the latter part of 1962 work began to convert The Candlelight Room into the intimate Theatre that is now the May Fair. The 26-ft. wide stage and 310 seats were provided for, and above, parts of two floors of bedrooms were converted to allow for the flying and hanging of scenery plus, of course, the usual theatre backstage facilities and dressing rooms.
The Theatre was opened on 17th June 1963 by Sir Ralph Richardson who starred in the opening production of Pirandello’s “Six Characters In Search Of An Author.” The Theatre, which is controlled by Grand Metropolitan Hotels, was only the fourth to be opened in London since 1940 and was designed to make it totally adaptable and capable of being used outside the three or so hours a day for the usual evening’s play. The only possibility overlooked in the design of the Theatre was that of turning it into a cinema. And that was deliberate as the Hotel already contains the Starlight Cinema!
During the last ten years the Theatre has played host to commercial presentations for sales conferences and seminars with, of course, the full facilities of the Hotel being available to delegates. Many familiar faces have appeared in these shows among them: Michael Aspel, Jimmy Edwards, Gerry Marsden, Lady Barnett, Georgie Fame and Kenneth Connor.
Other daytime and Sunday activities have included a number of television ‘chat shows’ among them a series with Eamonn Andrews and several programmes with David Frost and Michael Parkinson.
Two even more unusual shows staged here have been a bridge competition relayed to the audience on a scoreboard resembling a bingo card wtih a commentary by Omar Sharif and a 15-minute show launching a new shoe fabric at a cost of £5,000!
Whilst these activities have been taking place the Theatre has firmly established itself in the West End with its stage attractions. Since “Six Characters In Search Of An Author,” two shows have had extremely long runs. “Beyond the Fringe” transferred from the Fortune Theatre to play for a further two and a half years and on 7th September 1960 Christopher Hampton’s “The Philanthropist” starring Alec McCowen opened having had a season at the Royal Court Theatre. Alec McCowen was succeeded by George Cole and then Nigel Hawthorne and in all the play ran for over three years, closing finally on 27th October 1973. In between these two long runs a number of revues and seasons of plays have been staged together with an annual Christmas matinee presentation of “Sooty” which played to capacity audiences for 10 years running.
Since “The Philanthropist” productions have included seasons of “The Farm” from the Royal Court, “The Ride Across Lake Constance” from Hampstead Theatre Club and Roy Dotrice’s remarkable solo tour de force as John Aubrey in “Brief Lives.” More recent successes have included “Hinge and Bracket” and Michael Frayn’s “Alphabetical Order” (again from Hampstead Theatre Club) and James Bolam, Jane Asher, Stephen Moore in Christopher Hampton’s “Treats” as well as a very welcome return of Anna Russell.
To sum up, the May Fair Theatre is a splendid example of a building used to its fullest advantage at the same time providing good entertainment whilst offering all the facilities of the Mayfair Hotel to further the enjoyment of patrons.
17 June 1963 – Six Characters In Search of an Author (starring Sir Ralph Richardson)
1964: All In Love
Beyond the Fringe (transferred from The Fortune Theatre) ran for 2.5 years
7 September 1970 – 27 October 1973: The Philanthropist (starring Alec McCowen)
1979: Old Herbaceous (starring Roger Hume)
1981 – 1982 Three Men In A Boat (solo adaptation by Jeremy Nicholas)
197?: Brief Lives (starring Roy Dotrice)
1991 – 2001: The theatre hosted no professional productions during this period
2 July 2001 – 9 September 2001: Song of Singapore
April 2015: Fashion Victim The Musical
The Hotel was renovated in 2005/6 and it’s believed this is when the May Fair Theatre was converted into a smaller facility now used for private film screenings and small performances.