Delfont Mackintosh Theatres
The Queen's Theatre opened on 8 October 1907, almost 10 months after its twin, the Gielgud Theatre, on the adjoining corner of Shaftesbury Avenue. The architect for both was W.G.R. Sprague, the Queen's being the seventh West End theatre he had designed in addition to many outside London. Seating over 1,000 it was slightly larger than the Gielgud and like most theatres at the time exhibited a combination of architectural styles and influences, the most predominant being what was then termed the 'Edwardian Renaissance' style. The Illustrated London News wrote, the 'new Queen's Theatre, thanks to its imposing facade, makes a real addition to London's architecture, and internally, with its green upholstery and its white and gold scheme of decoration, proves one of the cosiest of our playhouses'. It was only after some debate that it was called the Queen's and a portrait of Queen Alexandra was hung above the fireplace in the grand entrance foyer. An earlier idea was to call it the Central Theatre, leading Bernard Shaw to remark, 'as if it were a criminal court or a railway terminus'.
The theatre's opening was not as auspicious as was hoped, the first show, Sugar Bowl, a comedy by Madeleine Lucette Riley, only ran for 36 performances and was quickly followed by an assortment of equally short-lived plays and comedies. In 1909 Henry Brodribb Irving, Henry Irving's oldest son and his wife, the actress Dorothea Baird, took the lease on the theatre and presented some of the classic plays that had made his father famous such as Hamlet and The Bells .
Queen's Theatre Tango Teas were a big hit in 1913. The stalls seats were removed and replaced with tables and chairs where afternoon tea was taken while watching the latest tango demonstration on stage, one of the dancers being a young Argentine whose parents thought he was in London studying Engineering.
It was not until April 1914 that the theatre had its first really successful play, Potash and Perlmutter by Montague Glass. These entertaining stories about two Jewish Americans living in New York moved away from the sentimental fare that had been presented all too frequently and despite the outbreak of war, found an appreciative audience for over 600 performances.
In 1919 Owen Nares joined Alfred Butt as lessee of the theatre. He was the heart throb of the day and over the next two years appeared in The House of Peril, The Cinderella Man and Mr Todd's Experiment.
The late 1920s brought two plays that created a sensation. Miles Malleson's anti-war piece The Fanatics, caused much controversy because it openly discussed sex and marital problems in a way never previously permitted by the Lord Chamberlain. The Trial of Mary Dugan, an American murder trial, proved compelling viewing and the scene was set by altering both the inside and outside of the theatre to resemble an American Court of Law.
The newly founded Malvern Theatre Company brought their production of Shaw's The Apple Cart to the Queen's in 1929 with Edith Evans as Orinthia and Cedric Hardwicke as Magnus. This was shortly followed by John Gielgud's first West End appearance in the role he made almost his own, Hamlet, with Donald Wolfit as Claudius.
Queen's Theatre Short Story, the first of eight plays written by the actor Robert Morley, starred Sybil Thorndike, Margaret Rutherford and a young Rex Harrison and, in an era when the theatre positively glittered with stars, was followed in 1936 by the first world war play Red Night, marking Robert Donat's debut as an actor-manager and John Mills' West End debut as Private Syd Summers. Among the many other celebrities who brought glamour to the Queen's in the 20s and 30s were Fred and Adele Astaire in Stop Flirting, Tallulah Bankhead in the romantic drama Conchita, Jack Hawkins in Ivor Novello's musical comedy, Sunshine Sisters, and Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks Junior in the 'ultra-modern problem play', Moonlight in Silver.
A highly distinguished company gathered for the Gielgud season in 1937-38. Gielgud presented four plays - Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, The School for Scandal and Three Sisters - with casts including Michael Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quayle, Leon Quartermaine, George Devine, Glen Byam Shaw, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Kempson. It was a season of such significance that it is felt to have laid the foundation for the post-war development of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.
In September 1940 a highly successful run of Rebecca with Owen Nares, Celia Johnson and Margaret Rutherford was brought to a premature end when the theatre received a direct hit during a bombing raid. The stone dome, grand staircase and foyer spaces were almost completely obliterated and the Queen's went dark for nearly 20 years.
Queen's Theatre The architects, Westwood Sons & Partners, reconstructed the theatre at a cost of £250,000, with Sir Hugh Casson acting as consultant on the décor. The auditorium retained its Edwardian atmosphere while the foyers, bars and theatre exterior were given a modern look. The critics who attending the reopening on 8 July 1959 called it a miracle and heaped praise on the opening show, John Gielgud's one-man performance of Shakespeare speeches and sonnets, Ages of Man.
In August the Youth Theatre appeared in the West End for the first time performing Hamlet. They returned in later years with Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream where budding young actors like Simon Ward, Martin Jarvis and David Suchet may be found in the casts.
The 1960s saw Michael Redgrave's sensitive adaptation of The Aspern Papers, the first West End production of The Lady from the Sea since 1928 and Noel Coward's final West End appearance in A Suite in Three Keys which became A Suite in Two Keys when Coward dropped one of the trilogy of plays, Shadows of the Evening, because it was 'too sad'. The National Theatre made its Shaftesbury Avenue debut in 1966 with A Flea in her Ear, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Othello. The latter's stellar cast included Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay and Maggie Smith. This was followed by the first European production of Neil Simon's New York comedy The Odd Couple with Jack Klugman and Victor Spinetti and Peter Ustinov's play Halfway up a Tree, directed by John Gielgud, both of which ran for more than 400 performances.
On the musical side Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's Stop the World I Want to Get Off, about the value of personal versus career choices, also ran for more than 400 performances before transferring to Broadway. Marlene Dietrich proved her sexual allure had not diminished when she seduced her audiences in two short cabaret seasons. This was followed by one of Cameron Mackintosh's earliest productions of The Card, based on the novel by Arnold Bennett, that was described by the Sunday Times critic, Harold Hobson, as 'the most vital musical I have seen for many years'. Hair, reopened with its 2,000th performance on 25 June 1974, but was now considered dated and did not last.
Queen's Theatre Two award winning plays Saturday Sunday Monday, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and Otherwise Engaged starring Alan Bates, enjoyed popular success in the 1970s. Alec Guinness appeared in his own adaptation of Jonathan Swift's writings, Yahoo, that he himself described as 'an odd evening'. A few months later Guinness gave a masterly performance in Alan Bennett's play about exiles of the spirit, The Old Country. The acting profession put itself on stage in The Dresser, a tale of an aging actor-manager and his dresser, Norman, played by Freddie Jones and Tom Courtenay.
Kenneth Branagh leapt to public attention by going straight from RADA to a principal role in Another Country, a play that also saw current romantic heroes like Rupert Everett, Daniel Day Lewis and Colin Firth in the cast.
Shadowlands, the moving story of C.S.Lewis' love for Joy Gresham, brought tears to many an eye in 1989 and won Nigel Hawthorne a Tony Award when it transferred to Broadway. A piece of theatrical history was made in 1990 when two sisters, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and their niece, Jemma, appeared in Three Sisters. Stephen Sondheim's love triangle Passion, had its London premiere at the Queen's with Maria Friedman and Michael Ball in the leading roles.
More recent productions include The Lady in the Van starring Maggie Smith, Medea with Fiona Shaw, the lively South African take on The Mysteries, Susan Stroman's dance show Contact and the RSC's season, The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamer Tamed. On 3 April 2004 Cameron Mackintosh's musical phenomenon Les Miserables transferred from the Palace Theatre where it had run for more than 18 years and 7,602 performances.
In 1999 Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Limited acquired the freehold of the Queen's and the Gielgud Theatres from Christ's Hospital, Horsham. The lease of the Gielgud Theatre reverted back from Really Useful Theatres to Delfont Mackintosh Theatres in March 2006 and subsequently, the theatre has played host to Les Misérables and has also undergone refurbishment.
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Delfont Mackintosh Theatres
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