Novello Theatre London

Venue Information

Novello Theatre
Address: 5 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4LD
Nearest Tube or Train: Covent Garden (Piccadilly line)
Nearest Buses: 6, 13, 19, 77a

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Theatre Quick Facts

Date opened: 22 May 1905
Designer: W. G. R. Sprague
First production: Il Maestro di Capella by Ferdinand Paer
Number of seats: 927
Theatre owner: Delfont Mackintosh Theatres
Other facts: Originally opened as the Waldorf Theatre on the 22 May 1905. Its name was changed to the Strand Theatre in October 1909, and then the Whitney Theatre in 1911. It reverted back to the Strand Theatre again in 1913. Cameron Mackintosh and his Delfont Mackintosh Group renamed the theatre in December 2005 to the Novello Theatre (Ivor Novello had lived in a flat over the theatre for 38 years from 1913 to 1951).


Theatre History

The Novello Theatre first opened on 22 May 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre. It wasdesigned by W. G. R. Sprague, who also designed the Aldwych Theatre on the opposite side of the Waldorf Hilton hotel. Both theatres were built when the Aldwych was created around 1902 to clear the slums to the east of Covent Garden.

In 1909 the theatre was renamed the Strand Theatre, and then the Whitney Theatre in 1911, before going back to the Strand Theatre in 1913. In 2005, the theatre was renamed the Novello Theatre in honour of Ivor Novello, who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 to 1951.

Famous productions include the black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1940’s), Sailor Beware! (1955), Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1963), and comedy No Sex Please, We’re British (1971).

More recent productions include Broadway musical Footloose (2206); The Drowsy Chaperone (2008); Desperately Seeking Susan (2007); Into the Woods (2008); and Mamma Mia!, which has been at the Novello since 2012.

The theatre was refurbished in 1930 and in the early 1970s. In 2005, its 100th anniversary year, Cameron Mackintosh completely refurbished the theatre, reopening in December 2005 with the RSC.

Production History:

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.

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!

1995 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 On 8 December, after a major refurbishment, the theatre reopened on 8 December 2005 as the Novello Theatre with the first of three notable seasons by the RSC.

2009 Debbie Allen’s searing production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof transferred from Broadway.

2011 The musical comedy Betty Blue Eyes, set in impoverished 1947 Britain and adapted from Alan Bennett’s screenplay for the film A Private Function, lifted spirits in austerity Britain.

2012 MAMMA MIA! transferred from the Prince of Wales Theatre in September where it has been playing ever since. There have now been more than 8,000 performances in London and it has been seen by over 9 million people.

Theatre Previous Shows

Past shows playing at the Novello Theatre:

Derren Brown - Svengali
Noises Off
Crazy For You
Betty Blue Eyes
Onassis
Spring Awakening
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