Dates: 1905 – present
Originally known as the Waldorf Theatre, named after the adjacent hotel.
Phillip Sheridan was a theatre electrician here when in 1914 he teamed up with Arthur Earnshaw (Duke of Yorks Theatre) to found Strand Electric in 1914. The theatre was renamed The Strand Theatre in 1913, and the company name was taken from that.
Selection of Past Productions:
Mamma Mia (September 2012 – present)
Noises Off (24 March 2012 – 30 June 2012)
Crazy for You (8 October 2011 – 17 March 2012)
Betty Blue Eyes (19 March 2011 – 24 September 2011)
Onassis (12 October 2010 – 8 January 2011)
Into the Hoods (26 March 2008 – 30 August 2008)
Shadowlands (21 December 2007 – 25 February 2008) transferred from the Wyndhams Theatre.
Desperately Seeking Susan (16 October 2007 previews / 15 November 2007 opened / 15 December 2007 closed, losing over £3.5 million)
The Drowsy Chaperone (6 June 2007 – 4 August 2007)
The Woman in Black (15 February 1989 – limited season) transferred to The Fortune Theatre
No Sex Please, We’re British (1971 – 1982) transferred to the Garrick Theatre
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963 – 1965)
Sailor Beware! (1955 – ?) – 1231 performances
Arsenic and Old Lace (1940s) – 1337 performances
May 1905: Waldorf Theatre (named after the hotel, adjacent to the theatre)
1909: Renamed The Strand Theatre
1911: Renamed the Whitney Theatre
1913: Renamed the Strand Theatre
December 2005: Renamed The Novello Theatre (after Ivor Novello, who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 to 1951)
History (from the official website)
1905 The Novello Theatre, known as the Waldorf Theatre opened on 22 May 1905 with an eight-week season of opera and drama starring the actress Eleanora Duse and the well-known opera singers Emma Calve and Edouard de Reszke.
1913 Now renamed the Strand had its first long run with an Anglo-Chinese play called Mr Wu, starring the matinee idol Matheson Lang as Wu Li Chang. It was to become his most famous role on both stage and screen.
1915 The First World War saw the theatre under the management of the husband and wife team of Julia Neilson and Fred Terry (youngest brother of the famous actress Ellen Terry). On 13 October the entrance to the theatre pit was bombed during a heavy Zeppelin raid when 19 bombs fell on the Strand. The performance that night was of The Scarlet Pimpernel, with Fred Terry as Sir Percy Blakeney, the Pimpernel. In spite of the destruction going on all around he managed to calm the audience and in true theatrical tradition ‘the show went on’.
1917 The actor and actress Arthur Bourchier and Kyrle Bellew acquired the lease to the Strand.
1923 The new owners put on Anna Christie, the first Eugene O’Neill play to be seen in the West End; it caused a sensation. They literally lived over the shop in one of the flats above the theatre, another flat being occupied by the composer, actor and darling of the times Ivor Novello, after whom the theatre is now named.
1930 The comedian Leslie Henson and his business partner Firth Shephard co-leased the theatre and presented the first in a series of farces. It’s a Boy! was swiftly followed by It’s a Girl! and in 1936 Aren’t Men Beasts! starred a young John Mills who was learning a few tricks of the trade from Strand stalwart Robertson Hare.
1940 The theatre was bombed during the Blitz however, under the auspices of Donald Wolfit, the show went on once again; lunchtime performances of Shakespeare were given with the artists picking their way to the stage over the rubble.
1942 Triumph when Arsenic and Old Lace, a new comedy by Joseph Kesselring, broke all records for the longest run with 1,337 performances until March 1946.
1943 Her Majesty the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) made her first visit to the theatre, to see Arsenic & Old Lace.
1951 And So to Bed about the life of Samuel Pepys transferred to the Strand. Vivien Ellis composed it as a period piece with sarabandes and madrigals. The musical director was Mantovani and when it the cast included Leslie Henson, Keith Michell and Denis Quilley.
1955 Sailor Beware!, a comedy by Philip King and Falkland Cary, made a star of Peggy Mount as Emma Hornett, ‘the mother-in-law to outrival all mothers-in-law’. It was an immediate success and the film rights were bought four days after the first night.
1958 The novelist William Golding adapted his first and only play for the theatre in Brass Butterfly; a comedy set in Roman times that starred Alastair Sim and George Cole.
1960 Comedy and farce were what the Strand was principally known for but there were exeptions. One such was Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. This famous production was staged and designed by Orson Welles and transferred from the Royal Court and starred Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Michael Gough and Peter Sallis.
1963 Stephen Sondheim’s third Broadway show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, received its UK premiere at the Strand with Frankie Howerd as the saucy slave Pseudolus.
1971 No Sex Please – We’re British became the theatre’s most successful show to date. It finally closed in 1982 after a record 6,671 performances. Stars who had appeared in it included Michael Crawford, David Jason and Andrew Sachs.
1982 The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard’s touching play about affaires de coeur, premiered at the theatre and enjoyed a two-year run with Felicity Kendal and Roger Rees in the leading roles.
1987 Barry Humphries, alias the gladdie-throwing Edna Everage, set new box office records with over 200 sold-out performances of Back with a Vengeance!
1985 Buddy, Alan Janes’s musical about the life of Buddy Holly, had audiences dancing in the aisles for seven years.
2002 The Rat Pack proved the enduring popularity of those three famous crooners Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin.
2005 The theatre closed for a major six-month, £4.5 million refurbishment to celebrate its centenary. It re-opened on 8 December 2005 under its new name of the Novello Theatre. Since then the RSC has presented three notable Shakespeare seasons at the theatre, Debbie Allen’s compelling production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof transferred from Broadway and more recently the musical comedy Betty Blue Eyes, set in an impoverished 1947 Britain, and adapted from Alan Bennett’s screenplay for the film A Private Function, lifted our spirits in today’s ‘austerity Britain’.