I love getting dressed up and going to the theatre (box of Maltesers in handbag). But… even with a great play in full swing, I can’t help getting just a teeny bit distracted, imagining what the view’s like from the stage or what it’s like to snoop around after the curtain is down, the actors have taken their bows, the ushers have done their rounds and popcorn machines are off… Luckily for me, my favourite London photographer, Peter Dazeley likes this kind of tour too, which he takes us on in his new book, London Theatres. Here are a few favourites.
Above: The Alexandra Palace Theatre opened in 1875 and is a feat of Victorian engineering, where audiences of up to 3,000 people were entertained by pantomime, opera, drama and ballet. The impressive stage machinery was designed so that performers could appear, fly into the air and disappear through the stage. It struggled to compete with the might of the West End and the theatre went on to be used as a cinema, a chapel and the home of music hall stars before a spell as a BBC prop store and workshop. For 80 years it has been closed to the public, a hidden gem perched high above the city but it reopened this month.
Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road
Wyndham’s opened on 16 November 1899 and was designed by the architect W G R Sprague in the Louis XVI style. Original plans included a winter garden on the roof which the council refused permission for. In 1910, Daphne du Maurier’s father – Gerald – became the actor-manager. It’s had four major refurbishments in its time.
The new Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre we see today on London’s Bankside opened in 1997 after 3.5 years to build. It’s a recreation of the original globe in Shoreditch which was said to have been demolished in 1644 to make room for tenement housing estates. It’s not known whether the original globe was actually round,
This stunning London theatre which opened in 1720 was built by a young carpenter called John Potter, “in a rough London lane rife with villains, pickpockets and crooks, where racketing carts spewed their hay and where tumblers, stilt-walkers and merchants vied for the attention of the crowds”. It changed hands many times, has opened and closed, and been revamped a few times, too. It’s most notable refurbishment was done by Houses of Parliament architect, John Nash – at the request of the Prince Regent – who lived in Brighton Pavilion – decided he thought London looked tired and shabby and wanted its appearance enhanced.
This theatre was built in 1916, and is best known as hosting Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap since 1974, making it the longest running straight play in the history of British Theatre. On the 18th of September 2018 the cast celebrate The Mousetrap passing yet another incredible milestone. 27,500 performances down.
This hidden gem East End music hall makes the perfect place for date night (see here!). Itbegan life as an alehouse dating back to 1743, serving London’s dock workers drinks, but became Wilton’s when John Wilton bought it in 1850 and turned it into a music hall. After escaping demolition during the East End slum clearances scheme it sat empty and derelict, until a Spitalfields resident called Frances Mayhew raised funds in the 1990s to restore it.
This is one of London’s biggest theatres – and it happens to be outdoors. It opened in 1932, and has one of the most beautiful settings in Londno’s most beautiful royal park. The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the Windmill Theatre are the only two theatres in London to remain open throughout the war.
You can buy Peter Dazeley’s book, London Theatres, here.