Opening on October 8, 1907, The Queen's Theatre was the second of a pair of theatres to open on Shaftesbury Avenue within a ten month period. The Gielgud Theatre, as it is known today, had its grand opening prior to the Queen's on an adjoining corner of Shaftesbury Avenue. The architect for both theatres was W.G.R. Sprague.

The Queen's was the seventh theatre on London's West Side that Sprague had designed. He had also been the architect of many theatres outside London. The Queen's was slightly larger than its counterpart, with seating for over 1000. Like most of Sprague's creations, the Queen's was architecturally splendid, with a predominant facade typical of early 1900's London. Most of the building's architectural features were of the Edwardian Renaissance style, but there were a variety of other styles present also.

There had been much anticipation at the theatre's opening, which proved to be ill-founded. The initial offering put forth was Sugar Bowl, a comedy by Madeleine Lucette Riley. After only thirty-six performances it closed, followed by a variety of plays and comedies that were just as unsuccessful. Ensuing years saw several innovations tried with limited success. Henry Brodribb Irving, Henry Irving's eldest son, staged his father's classics, Hamlet and The Bells. A few years later Queen's Theatre Tango Teas were implemented.

Much of the play seating was removed and replaced with tables and chairs where afternoon tea could be taken as the latest tango dancing techniques were performed on stage.

The first really successful play to grace the boards at the Queen's was in April 1914 when Potash and Perlmutter was staged. Written by Montague Glass, it featured story lines about two Jewish Americans living in New York City. In spite of unsettled conditions in Europe at the time, or maybe because of them, the play was a resounding success with over 600 performances. After the war, heart-throb Owen Nares appeared for two years in The House of Peril, The Cinderella Man, and Mr. Todd's Experiment.

Subsequent years saw a slate of actors and actresses adorn its stage that were the embodiment of great acting. Edith Evans, Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, Margaret Rutherford, Rex Harrison, Robert Donat, John Mills, Fred & Adele Astaire, Tallulah Bankhead, Jack Hawkins, Gertrude Lawrence, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. would all adorn the marquee in the ensuing years before WWII.

In 1940 the Queen's was enjoying the highly successful Rebecca, starring Owen Nares, Celia Johnson and Margaret Rutherford. Sadly, the theatre took a direct hit during the air raids of the Blitz in September. One of the most damaged of all London's theatres, the facade and front areas were totally destroyed, killing three people. The theatre would see no activity on its boards until July 8, 1959, nearly twenty years later. The reopening gala achieved critical acclaim as John Gielgud performed Shakespearean speeches and sonnets, a one-man play called Ages of Man.

A Who's Who of acting would star at the Queen's after the reopening and in the years to follow. Highly acclaimed plays performed include The Aspern Papers, Othello, The Odd Couple, Halfway up a Tree, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, Hair, Otherwise Engaged, The Old Country, Shadowlands and Taming of the Shrew. Then, on April 3, 2004, Les Miserables moved there from the Palace Theatre, where it had run for 18 years and 7,602 performances. Cameron Mackintosh's musical is still going strong at The Queen's Theatre, twenty-two years after its opening performance.

Oh, by the way. The Queen's has its share of ghostly stories to tell. At various times there have been seen a man, a Victorian lady and even a 'gay' ghost who sidles up to unaware gentlemen and pinches them on the derrière.

Source by Patrick Sharple


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