The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
Above - The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue during the run of 'Let The Right One In' in April 2014 - Photo M. L.
Originally intended to be called the Mascot Theatre it eventually opened as the Apollo on the 21st of February 1901 with a production by George Lederer of 'The Belle of Bohemia', an American comedy with music, from a book by Harry B. Smith, and music by Ludwig Englander. This was not a great success however and was soon taken off.
The Apollo was designed by the architect Lewin Sharp and was his only complete Theatre design, although he was also the architect for major alterations to the Camberwell Palace in 1908. The Theatre was built for the owner Henry Lowenfeld and constructed by Walter Wallis with an exterior designed in the Renaissance style, and an auditorium constructed on four levels with three cantilevered balconies, decorated in the Louis XIV style, although this would be altered by Ernest Shaufelberg in 1932.
The original capacity of the Theatre was stated in the press of the time as being around 1,200, although today the capacity is a much more modest 775. The Theatre's stage today has a proscenium width of 9.14m (30 foot) and a depth of 8.89m (29 foot).
The Apollo was the fourth Theatre to be built on the newly constructed Shaftesbury Avenue which was completed in 1887. The first was the original Shaftesbury Theatre, which opened in 1888 and was destroyed during the second world war on the 17th of April 1941. Next to be built was the Lyric Theatre which opened in December of the same year, 1888. Next was the Royal English Opera House, later to become The Palace Theatre, this opened in 1891, and next was the Apollo in 1901.
The opening night souvenir programme stated:- 'In the dress circle can be seen the mascot of the theatre, the original badge of the German tribe of gipsies who are connected with Mr Lowenfeld's family estate in Poland. It is a silver chain and buckle, on the buckle being a flying lizard supported dexter and sinister by lions rampant. This device is supposed to bring good luck and is reproduced in the scheme of decoration.'
The Stage Newspaper reported on the opening of the Apollo Theatre the day the Theatre opened in their February 21st 1901 edition saying:- 'An "inauguration performance," to which admission is to be gained by invitation only, will be given this evening at Mr. Lowenfeld's new theatre, the public opening being deferred until Friday. A private view of the new home, which adjoins the Lyric in Shaftesbury Avenue, was given on Saturday last, and it was generally agreed that London has, in its latest addition to the list of playhouses, one of the handsomest and best arranged.
With a facade in the French Renaissance style, the building is constructed entirely of stone, brick, and steel, and affords a seating capacity for 1,200 persons, each of whom - for the theatre is pillarless - is guaranteed a complete view of the stage. Special pains have been taken to secure effective ventilation without draughts. The decorations are in crimson, white, and gold, and the aim has been to provide a feast of colour. The act-drop represents a picture from Watteau, and is the work of Mr. Hubert Hooydonk.
The stage is large enough for the production of the most elaborate plays, and all the labour-saving appliances for the handling of scenery are provided. The dressing-rooms, with the exception of five, occupy a separate block, with a rehearsal-room. The lighting is electric throughout, and to provide against breakdown two separate companies, each with two circuits, furnish the light. The two special novelties are in the arrangement of the orchestra and the lighting of the stage. The construction of the orchestra - invented by Mr. Lowenfeld, intended to produce the proper relation in the sound of the various instruments to each other, and to avoid any possible muffling by loss of tonality. The floor space of the orchestra is in the form of a hollow oval, and the surface is hard and highly aimed. A wooden sounding-board is placed over this hollow surface, and a three-tier rostrum on glass legs stands on the sounding-board. The violins are placed on the highest tier, the wood, wind, and remaining strings on the next, whilst the lowest part is assigned to the brass and drums. By this means the thin violin sound waves rise before being mixed with the stronger wood, wind, and bass sounds, whilst the bass and drums are so removed that they do not interfere with either. The hollow floor and sounding-board truly reflect the whole mass of tone. The ides is a free adaptation of Richard Wagner's construction at Bayreuth.
A novel method of throwing light direct on the faces of the actors, also stated to have been invented by Mr. Lowenfeld, has here for the first time been practically carried into effect. From a space between the stalls and dress circle boxes limelights illuminate the stage on the level of the actors' faces without destroying the illusion, as lights thrown from the circle do, a plan frequently adopted in America. By means of the scheme now adopted the faces are lit directly from the front and equally from both sides, so that the objectionable shadows are avoided. This plan is quite new, and may require experimental perfecting, but it seems a step in the direction of ultimately realising Professor Herkomer's dream of abolishing the footlights.
In the dress circle is to be seen the mascot of the theatre, the original badge of the Goman tribe of gipsies, who are connected with Mr. Lowenfeld's family estate in Poland. It is a silver chain and buckle, on the buckle being a flying lizard, supported dexter and sinister by lions rampant. This badge is intended to bring luck, and is reproduced in the scheme of decoration throughout the theatre. The architect is Mr. Lewen Sharp, and the builder Mr. Walter Wallis; the decorators are Messrs. Hooydonk; sculptor, Mr. T. Simpson; upholsterer, Mr. T. Sandilands; bronzes, Messrs. Raingo; ventilation, Messrs. Korting; embroideries, Mons. Clair; and electric lighting, Messrs. Blackburn and Starling, under the direction of Mr. T. Digby.' - The Stage, 21st February 1901.
The Apollo Theatre opened on
the 21st of February 1901
with a production by George Lederer of 'The Belle of Bohemia' and
was a very successful Playhouse for most of the ensuing hundred years
or so. In 2013 however a major incident occurred at the Theatre when
part of the auditorium ceiling collapsed during a performance of 'The
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime' on the 19th of December
2013, in which nearly 80 people were injured. The Theatre was subsequently
closed for investigation and repairs for over 3 months and didn't
reopen until the 26th of March 2014 when it became home to the National
Theatre of Scotland's production of 'Let the Right One in'. The ceiling
collapse was eventually put down to the "deterioration over time
of wadding ties which supported the ceiling, thought to be in place
since its construction in 1901." Although the Theatre did eventually
reopen it was with the ceiling hidden by a painted cloth and the balcony
closed whilst furthur investigation and repairs were carried out.
The Apollo Theatre is one of London's major playhouses, situated in what is often referred to as London's Theatreland. The Theatre is currently run by Nimax Theatres whose own website can be found here.
The Romance of London Theatres
No. 30. The Apollo - 1929
Above - The Apollo Theatre during the run of the Revue 'For Amusement Only' - in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins
'THE Apollo Theatre situated in Shaftesbury Avenue was opened in February, 1901, and has been almost consistently devoted to musical pieces. The house opened with an American musical comedy, called "The Belle of Bohemia," which however proved a fiasco. Then came the main exception to the rule of musical pieces, with Martin-Harvey's season, in which was included "The Cigarette Maker's Romance" and "The Only Way."
The first real success was made in 1901 with a musical version of "Kitty Grey," which had been previously produced at the Vaudeville as a comedy. The theatre was crowded for hundreds of nights and George Huntley's "Johnnie" was one of the most strikingly original performances ever given on the London stage.
Right - An early postcard showing the Lyric and Apollo Theatres side by side in Shaftesbury Avenue.
The Apollo is one of the very few freehold theatres in London, and not so long ago changed hands for one hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
In 1903, the theatre was under the directorship of the ubiquitous George Edwardes, in which year "The Girl from Kay's" was one of the great successes.
"Glamour" by Peter Garland was also given in 1922, and was afterwards transferred to the Ambassadors. This was followed by "A Roof and Four Walls" with Phyllis Neilson Terry and Nicholas Hannen in the cast. This play ran for one hundred and thirty-two performances.
1924 saw produced at the Apollo one of the greatest successes of the year "The Fake" in which Godfrey Tearle appeared. Another theatrical success was "Is Zat So," which started in 1926 and ran for two hundred and thirty-four performances.
At the present moment a comedy in three acts by Barry Conners, entitled "The Patsy," is running at this theatre. The story is based on similar lines to that of "Peg o' My Heart" and deals with a Cinderella-like girl who is oppressed by her overbearing sister and harsh mother. The dialogue and acting are of the highest quality. The cast includes Helen Ford, who is a very big star on Broadway.
Left - A Programme for 'Escape Me Never' at the Apollo Theatre 1933.
Right - A Programme for 'Idiot's Delight' at the Apollo Theatre 1938.
In 1913 and 1924, Charles Hawtrey produced a number of plays, which were acted by his companies. One of the first was "General John Regan" -a George A. Birmingham play. It was a delightful piece, full of humour.
Cathleen Nesbit acted a leading part for the first time and gave a very good interpretation of the character of "Mary Ellen," the Irish slavey. Vane Tempest was also extremely good as Lord Alfred Blakeney. Other pieces produced included "A Little Fowl Play" in 1913, "NeverSay Die," - and "Things we'd Like to Know" in 1914, in which Dorothy Minto acted with Charles Hawtrey...
Left - A Programme for 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck which opened at the Apollo Theatre on the 24th May 1939 after a transfer from the Gate Theatre - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd. In the cast were John Mills, Niall Macginnis, Sydney Benson, Conway Palmer, Robert Berkely, Claire Luce, Nicholas Stuart, Richard Rudi, Jefferson Searles, and Edward Wallace.
Right - John Mills as George, and Niall Macginnis as Lennie, in 'Of Mice and Men' by John Steinbeck which opened at the Apollo Theatre on the 24th May 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.
...1920 saw George Grossmith's and Edward Laurillard's production of "Such a Nice Young Man," - a comedy in three acts by H. F. Maltby. In the following year Irene Hentschel and Monica Ewer gave a series of special matinees, including such plays as "The Best Policy " and "Galley Slaves. In 1922, "The Wheel" by J. B. Fagan was produced, in which Edith Evans appeared.'
The above text in quotes is from 'The Romance of London Theatres' By Ronald Mayes, and was printed in a Strand Theatre Programme dated January 21st 1929.
Above - The Apollo and Lyric Theatres in Shaftesbury Avenue looking towards Piccadilly Circus - Photo M.L. 2006 - Click for London's West End Theatres page.
Above - The Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue during the run of 'Summer and Smoke' in October 2006
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