The Adelphi Theatre, 409 - 412 Strand, London
Formerly - The Sans Pareil / Royal Adelphi Theatre / Century Theatre
Above - The Adelphi Theatre in March 2013 during the run of 'Bodyguard' - Photo M.L.
The Adelphi Theatre, which is situated on the Strand, London, has a long and involved history stretching right back to 1806. There have been four Theatres constructed on this site over the years but the fourth and present Theatre opened as the Royal Adelphi Theatre on the 3rd of December 1930 with a musical by Benn W. Levy and Lorenz Hart called ' Ever Green,' there are more details on this Theatre furthur down on this page.
The original Theatre on the site was built in 1806 by Mr. Jay of London Wall to the designs of Samuel Beazley and was known as the Sans Pareil (See lower down on this page for more information on the Sans Pareil.)
This building with a capacity of 1500 was renovated in 1879 and again in 1887 when a public house called the Hampshire Hog and the house next door, and the Nell Gwynne Tavern in Bull Inn Court were all bought by the Gattis, who had run the Theatre since 1879, in order to enlarge the Theatre.
Left - Bull Inn Court and the Nell Gwyne Tavern in 2006 - Photo M.L.
Right - The first Adelphi Theatre, London - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
They also built a new enlarged Facade and part of this can still be seen today above the current Crystal Rooms, originally the Adelphi Restaurant, next door to the present Adelphi Theatre entrance.
This second Adelphi Theatre was the scene of a now famous crime when on the 16th of December 1897 during the run of 'Secret Service' William Terriss was murdered whilst entering the Theatre by the royal entrance in Maiden Lane which he used as a private entrance.
Right - Plaque on the rear wall of the present Adelphi Theatre in Maiden Lane which reads: William Terris 1847 - 1897. Hero of the Adelphi Melodramas. Met his untimely end outside this Theatre 16 Dec 1897.
The stage door of the current Adelphi is in Maiden Lane but back then it was in Bull Inn Court. William Terriss would later have a Theatre named after him, the Terriss Theatre in Rotherhithe, later known as the Rotherhithe Hippodrome.
Second Adelphi Theatre - 1858
Above - The Entrance to the Second Adelphi Theatre - From a photograph by Alfred Ellis, Upper Baker Street
The caption to the above photograph Reads: 'The old Adelphi Theatre was pulled down in the summer of 1858, and the present edifice, the first stone of which was laid by Mr. Benjamin Webster was erected and opened on Boxing Night of the same year. This theatre was first known as the Sans Pareil, but its name was changed to Adelphi in the year 1820 by Rodwell and Jones. The front, as seen in this view, presents a three-storied building, with pillars resting between the windows on the two upper stories. To the left, on the ground floor, is seen the somewhat narrow entrance to the theatre, and to the right, between columns of polished granite, the doors leading to the restaurant.
Right - Part of the Facade of the second Adelphi Theatre is still visible above the current Crystal Rooms, originally the Adelphi Restaurant, and next door to the main entrance of the fourth and present Theatre - Photo M.L. 2006.
This restaurant, which occupies almost the whole of the front part of the building, is owned and managed by the proprietors of the Adelphi, Messrs. A. and S. Gatti, and is magnificently furnished, being replete with every thing that constitutes a first-class London restaurant. Between the two entrances is the door leading to the pit. The gallery and stage-door are in a court connecting the Strand with Maiden Lane. For three-quarters of a century this well-known and popular theatre has been the chosen home of melodrama, and with it are connected the name and fame of Yates, Wright, Paul Bedford, Toole, Madame Celeste, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, Mrs. Keeley, and many other theatrical celebrities. The present great success of this theatre is undoubtedly due to its indefatigable managers, Messrs. Gatti; and at the announcement of a new piece the lover of melodrama knows that there is a really good treat in store for him. Mr-Williarn Terriss and Miss Millward have been for many years respectively "hero" and " heroine " at this famous theatre.'
Above - The second Adelphi Theatre's Auditorium - From the 'Illustrated Times' January 1st 1859.
Above - Both sides of a programme for 'Down in a Baloon' and 'Notre Dame' at the second Adelphi Theatre on Monday the 24th of April 1871 - Courtesy Jennie Bisset and Brent Fernandez, whose ancestor James Fernandez was in the production along with my own ancestor T. C. King, who was Arthur Lloyd's father in law.
THE NEW ADELPHI THEATRE - From the Illustrated Times, January 1st 1859
No holiday spectacle on " boxing-night" was more brilliant or more pleasing than the Adelphi Theatre, for it was the first night of its opening. It was not only the reassembling of an audience to meet old favourites in a bran new theatre beautifully decorated, but the change which has been worked on the old site came upon the audience with the agreeable surprise of difficulties surmounted by an ingenuity that seems almost to have conquered the impossible.
Right - A postcard depicting the second Adelphi Theatre.
Most Londoners have been inside the Adelphi, and will remember it for the most inconvenient theatre that ever was entered. It was of such structure and proportions that you might have imagined an "Assembly Rooms" at an old inn converted into a theatre, and permanently kept in its provisional state. The straightness of the sides, the lowness of the penthouse that run off the back of the pit, the cramped condition of the basket-boxes behind the dress-circle, were personal inconviences to every sense of bodily comfort, sight, and breathing.
The straightness of the sides rendered two-thirds of the seats comfortless, from the necessity of constantly turning to the stage. Yet that house, cramped in size and shape, was the most constantly filled of any in London, for the simple reason that the performances were amusing, and the prices, according to every London standard, by no means extravagant. In the new house there is every guarantee that the performances will be not less amusing-the company is strengthened-the area for developing its faculties is considerably enlarged-the audience is lodged in a building as convenient and comfortable as it is suitable for seeing-and the whole of the improvements are presented to the public at a tariff of prices ranging below the old charges in the Adelphi. Indeed the theatre forms a very decided step in the progress of theatrical improvement.
This will be better understood by a more particular description. The visitor who enters by the old Strand entrance fancies himself in a dream when he takes his place in the midst of a building about twice as broad as the old audience part, and completely altered in every proportion. The stage is spacious, the proscenium lofty. On each side of the orchestra is a fine range of private boxes; by an exceedingly graceful sweep, a balcony of dress-boxes extends from one side to the other. It projects as in the old house over the pit; but at an elevation so much higher as to remove all sense of oppression from the sight or lungs of those who sit below. The easy and liberal curves which mark the chief forms of the theatre are themselves a source of satisfaction to the eye; the beauty is increased by the brilliant array of dresses in the chief circle; and the dresses are displayed to the utmost advantage by an open trellis-work along the front of the boxes. Above is a handsome ceiling tastefully designed by Sang, and painted in a style at once delicately finished and effective.
Left - Bull Inn Court running alongside the Adelphi Theatre is still there in 2006.
The body of the house has been designed with the special object of securing a complete view from every side. A point was taken rather behind the centre of the stage, and the seats of the audience are ranged within the portion of' a circle, so that the radius on each side is unbroken by any obstacle. There is not a seat in the house, even at the extreme corners of the side, which does not command the whole front of the stage, and that centre point; while from every side but the very extremest corners, the whole of the stage to the back and along each side is perfectly in view, and may, in fact, be seen almost by a direct front view. Behind the projecting balcony which forms the dress-circle is a row of private boxes, each containing four seats, the boxes themselves being open, lofty, commanding a good view of the scene, and enjoying as perfect a freedom of ventilation as the foremost row of the balcony. Above these is a range of upper boxes; and in a third tier an amphitheatre of stalls, with a gallery behind.
The improvement in front of the lights is only correlative to the improvement behind. The stage is spacious, but not an inch of room is wasted. Both in lateral width and in loftiness the amplest room is taken for scenic effect, and the machinery behind will assist in rendering the illusion as perfect as possible. Some of the minor improvements will exemplify the tendency of the whole.
Right - Rear and stage door of the fourth and present Adelphi Theatre in Maiden Lane in 2006.
The flaps which are thrown up when certain portions of the scenery are raised from below, are here abolished; for every part of the stage is "practicable"-can be removed at pleasure, even to the whole, if necessary, without traps or flaps. Thus the flooring can be made to correspond exactly to the exigencies of the scenery, and depth as well as height and breadth eau be given to the scene, As a whole, the theatre stands next to Covent Garden and Drury Lane for space. The proscenium itself is 38 feet high by 35 feet wide-several feet larger each way than the procenium of either the Lyceum, Olympic, or Princess's. The whole theatre has seats for 1,500 persons, but this estimate allows such ample accomodation for each that one may fairly say the new building will accomodate 2,000 with far greater comfort to themselves than ever the old one did one-half that number. The mode of lighting is simple, but brilliant in the extreme, the whole building being illuminated from the ceiling with one of Stroud's patent sun-lights. The light itself is concealed, though its effect is increased by an exquisitely formed chandelier-a glittering mass of cut-glass coronets, prismatic feathers, lustres, and spangles.
The new theatre has another advantage: the visitor does not simply purchase his right of admission; as in the case of the Russian theatres, he rather purchases his seat, and he is the tenant of it for the night. Excepting the back part of the pit and gallery, the place may be taken for the whole evening: so that as soon as the admission money is paid, whether in the early part of the day or the evening, the theatre-goer has secured his seat for the night without any ulterior trouble, without any chance of having it taken from him, and without any extra fee. There is no half-price.
Left - A colour postcard depicting the second Adelphi Theatre.
Nor is the audience barely admitted and allowed space for existence; on the contrary, personal convenience is consulted in every detail and every accessory. In the first place, space enough is secured for bodily ease; the width of the seats in the orchestra-stalls, for example, is two feet, an ample allowance even for crinoline, permitting change of posture at the desire of the sitter. The passages which give admission to the various parts of the house are spacious, simple in their construction, and easy of access.
At most theatres, the refreshments are either of a very inferior kind, repulsive in their look, and poisonous in their tendencies; or they are doled out at enormous prices. The department has hitherto, in fact, been "farmed" by outsiders, whose object has been to extort the largest return for the outlay and whose interest has not at all been identified with the welfare of the house. Mr. Webster has settled all difficulties by taking this department in his own hand; he has scoured refreshments by those purveyors who have a character at stake, and who will supply viands of the best quality. Drinks, for example, will come from Sainsbury's whose lemonade is made of lemons. In some theatres the arrangements for taking charge of the cloaks combine mortification with extortion. Ladies of families which are too homely to keep their carriages, and are not ambitious to pass through London in full-dress, are compelled to stand in the outer hall in order that they may be allowed to deposit cloaks and bonnets in a corner under a staircase and submit to the galling extortion of the attendants: in the new theatre this abuse is abolished. Cloak-rooms are provided in which ladies will find every facility for the toilet; and since fees areabolished throughout the building, there will be none of that extortion which is so repulsive to the female mind. Managers even of the most beggarly theatres appear heretofore to have framed their regulations on the pretence that they were catering only for " the aristocracy; " and if middle-class visitants came, they were to be brought to obey the rules and to pay the fees, under pain of mortification. Mr. Webster sees that theatres must draw the great average of their revenue from the middle-class, and his regulations have, for the first time perhaps, placed the middle-class within the theatre on a footing of complete equality with the highest and wealthiest in the land.
Right - Sign about the murder of William Terris attatched to the Nell Gwynne Tavern in Old Bull Court which still runs alongside the Aldwych Theatre in 2006.
No fear of fire, such as that which must haunt the splendid wood lined theatre of Moscow - the phoenix successor of another splendid building - will harass the mind of the most timid in the Adelphi: the whole is fire-proof and should any hanging or crinoline occasion the most passing alarm of fire, additional doors at the sides fly open at the touch of a spring, and the audience can disperse "in a trice." About another new feature in the new theatre we have some doubt: all the check-takers and box-openers are females.
Text from the Illustrated Times, January 1st 1859
Third Adelphi Theatre / Century Theatre - 1901
The second Adelphi Theatre was replaced in March 1901 by a new Theatre, this time named the Century Theatre, which was an almost complete reconstruction of the previous building.
Above - The Century Theatre Auditorium from the stage - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
The Century Theatre opened on the 11th September 1901, now with its stage door in Maiden Lane, and was built by Frank Kirk to the designs of Ernest Runtz and had a capacity of 1,297 which was later increased to 1,500.
Left - The Auditorium and stage of the Century Theatre - From 'The Playgoer' 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.
However, the name reverted back to the Adelphi Theatre in 1904.
Right - Programme for 'The Worst Woman in London' at the Third Adelphi Theatre in March 1903.
George Edwardes took over the management of the Theatre in 1908 when it became home to Musical Comedies for many years.
Above - Three Programmes for the third Adelphi Theatre. 'A Queen of Society,' 'Camille,' and 'Arizona,' all from the early 1900s.
Above - Programme Cover and Cast Detail for 'Veronique' at the Third Adelphi Theatre whilst under the management of George Edwards.
Above - Programme Cover and Cast Detail for 'Tina' at the Third Adelphi Theatre in 1918.
Above - A programme for Gertrude Lawrence in 'Nymph Errant', a play with music by Cole Porter, which opened at the Adelphi Theatre in 1933. Note the original 1930 frontage of the Fourth Adelphi Theatre can be seen in this image, this was altered in 1937 when the black triangular panel was removed and replaced with flat panel we see today.
Despite all the previous Theatres on the site, the third Adelphi Theatre was replaced yet again only 30 years later by a fourth Adelphi Theatre.
This one opened as the Royal Adelphi Theatre on the 3rd of December 1930 with a musical by Benn W. Levy and Lorenz Hart called ' Ever Green.' This theatre is the one which is still standing today.
Right - The fourth and present Adelphi Theatre, on The Strand, London during the run of Chicago in 2005, The Adelphi continues to be a very successful Theatre.
Left - The Adelphi Theatre during the run of 'The Lovebirds' in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.
The present Theatre was built by Pitcher Construction Company to the designs of Ernest Schaufelberg and had a capacity on its opening of 1,400. The stage on opening was 36' wide by 27'9 high by 49' deep. The Royal was dropped from its name in 1940 and it is known today as the Adelphi Theatre.
Above - Beatrice Lillie in 'Auntie Mame' a role which she played in the original Broadway run and then revived at the Adelphi Theatre, London in 1958 - Photo Courtesy Gerry Atkins.
On the opening of the fourth Theatre the building was reviewed in 'The Architects' Journal' on the 3rd December 1930 with the title of 'Trigonometry in the Theatre', they said: 'The reconstructed Adelphi Theatre is designed with a complete absence of curves. Externally and internally the entire conception is carried out in straight lines and angles, the angle of thirty-two degrees being used as the master note.
Right - A British Pathe Film of a pantomime rehearsal for 'Aladdin' at the Adelphi Theatre with producer Bob Nesbitt and actor Arthur Riscoe as Widow Twankey in December 1937. - Clip opens in a new window or tab.
Considerable public attention was rivetted on the work during its final stages, owing to the big hustle performed by the builders to keep to the schedule. It is understood that the theatre was to open on November 24, and that the owners were to pay Mr Cochran a penalty of £450 for every day they were late in handing over the theatre ... The lower half of the walls and fronts of the two circles has been panelled in wood of a deep orange colour, perfectly plain, polished and with no decorative motif whatsoever.
This, with the general colour scheme of orange, green, and gold, with bronze insets on the underside of the circles, gives a most bizarre and opulent atmosphere.' The Architects' Journal, 3rd December 1930 .
Above Left - A Programme for 'Bless The Bride' at
the fourth and present Adelphi Theatre in 1949.
Above - The Fourth and Present Adelphi Theatre during the run of Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of 'Evita' in October 2006.
Above - The Adelphi Theatre during the run of the musical 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' in April 2009
Above - The Adelphi Theatre during production for Derren Brown's 'Enigma,' in June 2009
Above - The Adelphi Theatre in August 2009 advertising 'The Rat Pack' - Photo M.L.
Above - The Adelphi Theatre in February 2010 during previews for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical 'Love Never Dies' which opened on Tuesday the 9th of March 2010 and closed in August 2011. The show continued the story of the phenomenally successful 'Phantom of the Opera' which has been playing at Her Majesty's Theatre since 1986.
Above - The Adelphi Theatre advertising the National Theatre's production of 'One Man Two Guvnors' which opened at the Theatre in November 2011 - Photo M.L.
Above - The Adelphi Theatre in March 2012 advertising the Chichester Festival production of 'Sweeney Todd' Starring Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton - Photo M.L.
The Adelphi Theatre is currently co-owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.
The Sans Pareil, 409 - 412 Strand, London - 1806
The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes
THE, Sans Pareil stood on the site of the present Adelphi Theatre in the Strand, and was built by one John Scott. This gentleman was a colour maker of the Strand, who had amassed a large fortune by the manufacture of a washing blue called the "Old True Blue."
Scott was fond of entertaining actors, and his daughter conceiving a passion for the stage, persuaded him to build a theatre. He was rash enough to invest £10,000 in buying the leases of some ruinous old property at the side, and in the rear, of his dwelling house, and built a small theatre, which he christened the Sans Pareil.
Despite the previous disastrous failures of "outside" speculators, John Scott's venture succeeded beyond all expectations. The house opened in 1806 with an entertainment written and delivered by Miss Scott, consisting of songs, recitations and imitations. John Scott, as manager, used to take off his coat, go into the cheap part of the house and pack the audience close together, thus, he says, increasing his takings by £5 a night. The performances were varied by displays of fireworks.
Early prices charged were: boxes 4s.; pit, 2s.; gallery, 1s., with half -price to the boxes at 8.30 p.m. Doors were opened at 5.30 p.m., and the performance commenced at 6 30.
It was not long before the Sans Pareil became a thorn in the side of the patent theatres, when dramatic fare took the place of the earlier style of entertainment. Miss Scott seems to have been a clever girl, who was the vital spark of the company. She not only performed in all the pieces, save pantomimes, but wrote them nearly all. On three-fourths of the programmes there was a line in italics stating that "the whole of this evening's entertainment is written by Miss Scott."
At times it was the scenes and situations which she rearranged, but always there was some note on the programmes of the day, stating that she was responsible for many parts of the fare. Her name always had a line to itself and was printed in very large capitals - this in striking contrast to the other names of the company. Should of course there be present a star from Drury Lane or Covent Garden, due prominence was given it.
This lady was evidently "house proud," too, in that on one occasion she indignantly disowned any connection with any other Scott who might be playing elsewhere, and declared she had never appeared in any other theatre.
Left - The original article from a Tivoli Cinema, Strand, programme.
Burlettas or melodrama were the pieces most appreciated by the audiences, with titles such as "TheRed Robber," "The Old Oak Chest," and "The Amazon Queen."
John Scott was as fortunate with his theatre as he was with his washing dye, and made a second large fortune. He sold the Sans Pareil in 1819 to Messrs. Jones and Rodwell for £25,000, and retired with his daughter. The theatre changed its name with the change of management, and was reopened in the latter part of 1819 as the New Adelphi. - The Romance of London Theatres by Ronald Mayes - From a programme for the Tivoli Cinema, Strand, London.
The Adelphi Theatre is currently co-owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.
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