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The Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' in October 2011 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' in October 2011 - Photo M.L.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Cambridge Theatre opened on the 4th of September 1930 with a Review called 'Charlot's Masquerade' by Ronald Jeans. The Theatre was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie and built by Gee. Walker Slater Ltd with an auditorium on three levels and a capacity of 1,275.

The Cambridge was one of many Theatres which opened in London's West End in 1930, and one of several opening in the same month. First there was the Prince Edward on April the 3rd, then the Cambridge on the 4th of September, then the Phoenix on the 24th of September, and the Whitehall on the 29th of September. Then came the rebuilt Adelphi Theatre on 3rd of December, and finally the Leicester Square Theatre which opened on December the 19th. Quite a flurry of Theatre building for one year in the 1930s.

 

A sketch of the Cambridge Theatre Signed by the artist and drawn for the architects Wimperis Simpson & Guthrie of South Molton St in 1930 - Courtesy James Caslaw

Above - A sketch of the Cambridge Theatre Signed by the artist and drawn for the architects Wimperis Simpson & Guthrie of South Molton St in 1930 - Courtesy James Caslaw

Right - The Cambridge Theatre auditorium in the late 1980s showing one of the two boxes and the Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circles. - Photo M.L.The Architects' Journal of the 8th of October 1930 and reprinted here from The Theatres Of London' by Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, said of the new Cambridge Theatre: 'The site is a corner one and the new building presents a symmetrical design when looking at the corner, yet the subsidiary axis of the entrance hall is actually parallel to one of the boundary walls, a fact of which most visitors remain unconscious.

Right - The Cambridge Theatre auditorium in the late 1980s showing one of the two boxes and the Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circles. - Photo M.L.

The exterior is faced mostly with stone, the metal windows, the entrance canopy, and the display signs are painted Cambridge blue. Within, the shape is unusual where theatres are concerned, especially as regards the roof, since both vertical and horizontal sections describe elliptical curves. Across the ceiling is a series of transverse ribs, which advance in increasing proximity one to another up to the springing of the Dress Circle. Each contains concealed lighting playing upon the downward dropping dome that would in any case lead the eye to the proscenium.

The Cambridge Theatre auditorium in the late 1980s showing the Dress and Upper Circles, and the ribbed ceiling from which hidden lighting steps from back to front in sequence. - Photo M.L.The effect is intensified by the scheme of decoration, carried out in bands of lacquered metal-leaf, diagonally sloped and graduated from deep gold brown to pale honey yellow. The two boxes give the impression of being lobes of the Dress circle and each has a semi-circular arched opening, the tympanum of which is filled in with an embossed design furnished in matt-silver.'

Left - The Cambridge Theatre auditorium in the late 1980s showing the Dress and Upper Circles, and the ribbed ceiling from which hidden lighting steps from back to front in sequence. - Photo M.L.

Other papers were not so favorable and in 1950, in an attempt to change the building's atmosphere, the auditorium was given a coat of garish red paint and re-lit with chandeliers and a large candelabra. I imagine that this was probably a lot worse than the original and when I worked there in the late 1980s it was back to a more sophisticated cream, and much of the original lighting had been reinstated, although sadly not all of it. The ribbed ceiling lighting does still work and computers now operate the stepping effect down towards the proscenium before a performance begins.

 

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Let Them Eat Cake' in the 1950s - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Above - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Let Them Eat Cake' in the 1950s - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Programme for 'Elizabeth Of England' at the newly opened Cambridge Theatre in 1931.Programme for 'The Greeks Had A Word For It' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1935.The Cambridge Theatre has had a rather checkered history and success has often eluded it. One success though was 'Elizabeth of England' which had a reasonable run in 1931, (See Programme Right,)

Right - A Programme for 'Elizabeth Of England' at the newly opened Cambridge Theatre in 1931.

Left - A Programme for 'The Greeks Had A Word For It' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1935.

Another success was the Bernard Shaw Rep Season from 1935 for several years before the Theatre was given over to Film for a while. In the 1980s one of the projectors was still there in the followspot box, (See Below.)

 

Programme for 'Distinguished Gathering' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1936.Programme for 'Night Must Fall' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1936.'A Night in Venice' had a good run of 433 performances opening in 1944, and from 1946 to 1948 a season of Opera and Ballet was staged at the Theatre by Jay Pomeroy.

Left - A Programme for 'Distinguished Gathering' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1936.

Right - A Programme for 'Night Must Fall' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1936.

'Billy Liar' opened in 1960 and ran for two years, and Tommy Steele found success at the Cambridge with 'Half a Sixpense' which ran for 677 performances. Ingrid Bergman was at the Cambridge Theatre in 1965 with 'A Month In The Country.'

The Cambridge then fell out of favor and in 1967 it became a Cinema again for a year.

 

The unusually large Followspot Box at the Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet', this was also used as a projection booth when the Theatre was in Cinema use. Photo taken in 1989 - M. L. Left - The unusually large Followspot Box at the Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' in 1989. This was also used as a projection booth when the Theatre was in Cinema use in the 1930s and 1960s, one of the projectors was still there when I worked at the Theatre - Photo M. L.

The Cambridge Theatre in 1986 still with its 'Magic Castle' signage but after the production had closed and before the Theatre was purchased by Stoll Moss Theatres and restored - Courtesy Jason Mullen.The Cambridge Theatre later became home to a great many short but successful plays, many of them revivals.

A Programme for 'Ipi Tombi' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 - Kindly Donated by Linda ChadwickMusicals then became the fare again and one of these was 'Ipi Tombi', which had originally opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in November 1975, transferred to the Cambridge Theatre on the 16th of March 1977, before transferring to the Astoria Theatre in February 1980.

Left - A Programme for 'Ipi Tombi' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick - More from this programme below.

In 1984 the Theatre was the subject of quite a major conversion and reopening as London's first Magic Theatre known as 'The Magic Castle.' This expensive production however was fraught with difficulties and funding issues and closed a year later.

Above Right - The Cambridge Theatre in 1986 still with its 'Magic Castle' signage but after the production had closed and before the Theatre was purchased by Stoll Moss Theatres and restored - Courtesy Jason Mullen.

 

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' in 1989 - Photo M. L.After Magic Castle had closed the Theatre stood empty for some time until it was bought by Stoll Moss Theatres in 1986. They refurbished the building and restored the interior to something like its original 1930s splendour, all done under the supervision of Carl Toms. The Theatre reopened with a production of 'Peter Pan' in November 1987.

Left - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' in 1989 - Photo M. L.

The next production at the Cambridge was 'The Rink' in 1988 which was much loved by some but a not a great success, but the next production, 'Budgie' in 1988, was a success, and then 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' ran for three years at the Cambridge from 1989, winning an Olivier Award for Best Musical, and then returned again later for a short run.

 

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' in December 1992 - Photo M. L.'The Beautiful Game,' A new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton in 2000 was not the success they had hoped, but a production of 'Fame,' in 1995 and again in 2000, which seemed to be on tour around the West End for many years, did as well as usual.

Right - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Return To The Forbidden Planet' in December 1992 - Photo M. L.

In 2000 the Madness Musical 'Our House' ran for a year and then 'Jerry Springer The Opera' was a great success in 2003, despite the controversy surrounding it. Following this the Theatre then became home to the original London production of Kander and Ebb’s 'Chicago' which ran at the Cambridge until October 2011 before transferring to the Garrick Theatre for a November 7th reopening. Following this the highly successful musical version of Roald Dahl's 'Matilda' opened at the Cambridge in October 2011 and is still running at the time of writing in April 2013.

The Cambridge Theatre is currently owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.

 

A History of the Cambridge Theatre from 1930 to 1977

From a Programme for 'Ipi Tombi' which opened at the Cambridge Theatre
on the Wednesday March 16th 1977

The Programme for 'Ipi Tombi' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 which this article comes from - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.The Cambridge Theatre opened 4 September 1930, with "Chariot's Masquerade," a revue by Ronald Jeans, music by Roland Leigh. Produced by Andre Chariot, under the management of B. A. Meyer.

Right - The Programme for 'Ipi Tombi' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 which this article comes from - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.

The building is situated in St. Giles' between Cambridge Circus and Covent Garden in Seven Dials : this spot where seven streets meet has long been a famous district of London. Notorious for its slums in the nineteenth century, it had earlier been a fashionable area. John Evelyn, writing in 1964, says: "I went to see the building beginning near St. Gile's, where seven streets make a star for a Doric pillar placed in the middle of a circular area, said to be built by Mr. Neale, introducer of the late lotteries in imitation of those at Venice." The district at that time was known as Seven Streets, but to the column were affixed sundials, one to face every street, and from this fact the present name is derived. The column is now at Weybridge in Surrey. (Note: The column was restored and moved back to its original place in Seven Dials in the late 1980s. M.L.)

Even today there remains a distinct old-world atmosphere in the streets around this area which modern redevelopment has not yet attacked.

The Cambridge Theatre was built by Bertie Meyer on a plot of ground at the corner of Great Earl Street (now Earlham Street) and Mercer Street, backed by Shelton Street. It was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie and constructed by Gee, Walker and Slater, Ltd. Its interior decoration was designed by Serge Chermayeff.

The modernity of the theatre, both externally and internally, was much commented upon, favourably for the most part, at the time of its erection. The "Architects' Journal" of 8 October 1930 says : "The site is a corner one and the new building presents a symmetrical design when looking at the corner, yet the subsidiary axis of the entrance hall is actually parallel to one of the boundary walls, a fact of which most visitors remain unconscious. The exterior is faced mostly with stone, the metal windows, the entrance canopy, and the display signs are painted Cambridge blue. Within, the shape is unusual where theatres are concerned, especially as regards the roof, since both vertical and, horizontal sections describe elliptical curves. Across the ceiling is a series of transverse ribs, which advance in increasing proximity one to another up to the springing of the Dress Circle. Each contains concealed lighting playing upon the downward dropping dome that would in any case lead the eye to the proscenium. The effect is intensified by the scheme of decoration, carried out in bands of lacquered metal leaf, diagonally sloped and graduated from deep gold brown to pale honey yellow. The two boxes give the impression of being lobes of the Dress Circle and each has a semi-circular arched opening, the tympanum of which is filled in with an embossed design furnished in matt-silver."

 

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Three Sisters' in June 1976 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick."It is in fact a monolithic shell of concrete and steel," said 'The Times' of 29 November 1930, "In the internal decorations a note of simplicity has been struck." 'The Stage' of 4 September 1930 found that "The beautiful, if somewhat peculiar decorative scheme appears to be Teutonic, and is strangely reminiscent of the then strange futuristic sets in German films immediately after the war of 1914-18." In 1950 the theatre was given an entirely new scheme of interior decoration, this time in red. It was also completely relit with large gilt candelabra and chandeliers.

Left - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Three Sisters' in June 1976 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.

The theatre opened on 4 September 1930 with Beatrice Lillie in "Chariot's Masquerade," presented by Andre Chariot. Subsequent successes were a season of Nikita Balieff's "Chauve Souris" in March 1931 and "Elizabeth of England" in September 1931.

In 1932 Sasha Guitry was here for a season and in 1934 there was a season by the Comedie Francaise. A Bernard Shaw repertory season was given in 1935 by the Macdona Players and for the next few years the Cambridge mainly housed transfers from other theatres. May 1939 saw the first appearance of Lydia Kyasht's "Ballet de la Jeunnesse Anglaise"; then for several years the theatre was used mainly for film trade shows.

In June 1942 Jay Pomeroy presented a programme called "New Russian Ballet" and the company had with them the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Anatole Fistoulari. The choreography was by Catherine Devillier from the Moscow Opera House.

March 1943 saw an interesting revival of Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House," with a cast including Robert Donat, Francis Lister, Edith Evans and Isabel Jeans, and at Christmas of the same year "Peter Pan" was given with Ar. Todd as Peter.

"A Night in Venice," an operetta by Johann Strauss, began its run in May 1944 and lasted for 433 performances. For some years the Cambridge had been famous for its Sunday concerts presented by Jay Pomeroy; he eventually founded the New London Opera Company and made the Cambridge its headquarters from 1947, staging many successful operatic revivals including "Don Pasquale." He also brought Ballet Companies to London and presented Italian and French companies in seasons of plays,up to the end of 1948.

The theatre's next success was the Cecil Landeau revue "Sauce Tartare" (1949) and its sequel "Sauce Piquante".

During 1951 Menotti's opera "The Consul" was staged and an ill-fated revival of "Hassan" followed. After this until 1952 Peter Daubeney presented foreign dance seasons with great success.

 

The Cast of 'Ipi Tombi'  - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick

Above - The Cast of 'Ipi Tombi' from the programme for the show which this article comes from. Ipi Tombi was produced at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 - Programme Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick

 

A Programme for 'The Reluctant Debutante' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1955 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.The Cambridge became a legitimate theatre with "Affairs of State" in August 1952 and since then some of the biggest successes have been "Book of the Month" (1954), "The Reluctant Debutante" (1955) (Programme shown right), "Breath of Spring" (1958), and "The Wrong Side of the Park" (1960).

Right - A Programme for 'The Reluctant Debutante' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1955 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick. In the cast were Wilfred Hyde White, Celia Johnson, Anna Massey, Eileen Peel, Anna Steele, Peter Myers, John Merivale, and Gwynne Whitby.

The Cambridge being the fifth largest capacity legitimate theatre in the West End of London has proven to be a successful house for both straight plays and large-scale musicals, attracting some of the world's leading stars.

Plays: BILLY LIAR with Albert Finney, A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY with Ingrid Bergman, THE MAGISTRATE with Alistair Sim, (Programme shown below left) HEDDA GABLER, a National Theatre production with Maggie Smith, CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND'S CONVERSION with Ingrid Bergman

A programme for 'The Magistrate' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1969 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.Musicals: THE CROOKED MILE with Millicent Martin and Elizabeth Welch,
HALF A SIXPENCE with Tommy Steele, ANNE VERONICA with Arthur Lowe,
TOM BROWN'S SCHOOLDAYS with Roy Dotrice.

Under the direction of Larry Parnes since 1972, the theatre has been 'dark' for only one week in the first five years of his management excepting the period required to instal the specially designed ice surface for the JOHN CURRY THEATRE OF SKATING.

Left - A programme for 'The Magistrate' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1969 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick. In the cast were Alistair Sim (shown Below Right), Patricia Routledge, Michael Aldridge, Renee Asherton, Robert Coote among others.

Notable presentations since 1972 have been BEHIND THE FRIDGE, TWO AND TWO MAKE SEX (a previous Ray Cooney production with Patrick Cargill); A BIT BETWEEN THE TEETH and JACK THE RIPPER. The following two productions during the last season will be particularly remembered:

 

A photograph of Alistair Sim - From a programme for 'The Magistrate' which was produced at the Cambridge Theatre in 1969 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.THREE SISTERS (Programme shown above) opened for a limited season on 23 June 1976. The critical acclaim and public response led to a further extension of the season and resulted in probably the most commercially successful revival ever of a Chekhov play in the West End. Director of the Year — JONATHAN MILLER: The Society of West End Theatre Awards. Best Production — JONATHAN MILLER. Best Performance by an Actress — JANET SUZMAN. Plays and Players Awards. Best Actress — JANET SUZMAN: Evening Standard Awards.

Right - A photograph of Alistair Sim - From a programme for 'The Magistrate' which was produced at the Cambridge Theatre in 1969 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick.

THE JOHN CURRY THEATRE OF SKATING in December 1976. Larry Parnes presented the world premiere season of a new and unique theatre form. With the collaboration of some of the worlds most notable dance and ballet choreographers, Jobn Curry, the world's greatest skater introduced a new dimension to West End Theatre. The show broke all box office records for the Cambridge Theatre.

The above text on the 'History of the Cambridge Theatre 1930 to 1977' and some of its images are from a programme for 'Ipi Tombi' at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick. Other images are credited in their captions.

 

The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Chicago' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Cambridge Theatre during the run of 'Chicago' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

The Cambridge Theatre is currently owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.

 

London's West End Theatres

Adelphi Aldwych Ambassadors Apollo Apollo Victoria Arts Cambridge Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric New London Noel Coward / Albery Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's