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The Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London, WC2

The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'The Play That Goes Wrong' in February 2015 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'The Play That Goes Wrong' in February 2015 - Photo M.L.

See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsSee this Theatre on Google StreetviewThe Duchess Theatre opened on the 25th of November 1929 with the play 'Tunnel Trench' by Hubert Griffith. The site the Theatre was built on was a WW1 Zeppelin-raid bomb site owned by Mabel Ainsworth until about 1927, and then latterly by Willy Clarkson, and had been vacant for many years due to the 'Ancient Lights' rule which prevented new buildings blocking the light of buildings close by.

Quick Facts
Quick Facts

The Theatre was designed by Ewen Barr who overcame the 'Ancient Lights' problem by designing his new Theatre with the upper storeys set back and the rest of the building low to the ground, much of it, including the stage and stalls, below ground level. The front of the circle is consequently at street level.

The safety curtain at the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.This design has proved problematic for the Theatre ever since as ground water has to be permanently pumped out of the basement by several dedicated pumps, rather like the bilge pumps on a boat.

The stage and Proscenium of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.The Duchess Theatre was constructed by F. G. Minter Ltd. in a 'ModernTudor Gothic' style and the auditorium was built on two different size levels, the Circle being narrower than the Stalls. This small playhouse has a capacity of only 479 and the sight-lines are excellent due to the Circle being suspended from the roof. The Theatre has concealed lighting throughout.

The Circle and Ceiling of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.A short report on the 'House Warming' of the new Duchess Theatre was published in the ERA on November the 27th 1929 saying:- ' Jack de Leon's house-warming at the Duchess was a successful and jolly affair and largely attended by actors, managers and all sorts of other people connected with the stage. The Rance of Sarawak was, I believe, the official hostess and, personally, I was received by Tom Kealy, who was full of news, as usual. The theatre is the most beautiful of the smaller houses in London and I admired particularly the softly tinted backgrounds and the concealed lighting. An outstanding feature are the inset sculptured panels on either side of the circle. The stage is small and the projection at the back, owing to the smallness of the site, will prove a hindrance to the producer. Dressing-rooms and arrangements behind-stage are admirable.

View of the concealed lighting in the stalls of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.The Duchess is built on two levels and there are fewer steps to the seats than in any theatres in London. It it certainly well planned - when one remembers the narrow, winding passages and flights of stairs before reaching one's seat in some theatres. The seating capacity is nearly 500 - to be exact 499 - and at the prices charged for the opening play, "Tunnel Trench" the house will hold about £300 a performance. Griffiths' play deserves to take that amount for many months to come.

The Stalls of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.Catherine-street is not a good address for, although "The Era" office is within a stone's throw of the Duchess, I did not know the name of the street until a month or two ago. Actually, the theatre is a minute from the Gaiety corner in the Strand, the same distance from Drury Lane Theatre, and nearly opposite the entrance to the Strand Theatre.

View of the concealed lighting in the stairway of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.The facade of the Duchess is a charming addition to London's buildings. It is modern Gothic, and the three projecting bays with enamelled panels under the windows are particularly pleasing to the eye. The theatre is built on a site, belonging to Willie Clarkson, that has been vacant - except for a coffee stall - for over twenty years.' - The ERA November 27th 1929.

The images above show the concealed lighting in the stalls and stairways, and other views of the interior of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photos M.L.

The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'The Unexpected Guest ' in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Above - The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'The Unexpected Guest ' in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.

A Review of the 'The Intimate Review' at the Duchess Theatre - From the Daily Herald, Thursday March the 13th 1930.The Duchess has had far too many productions to name here but it is generally home to small touring shows or limited run seasons of plays and small musicals. The Theatre is unfortunately rather famous though for being home to the World's shortest run when the production of the 'The Intimate Revue' opened and closed on the same night.

The show, which is said to have been very under rehearsed, opened without any previous public previews on the 11th of March 1930. A lot of the audience had left before the show was even over and by the end of the night the show had closed. It was however, reopened a few weeks later on the 29th of March 1930 with the new name of 'The Second Intimate Review' but it closed again two weeks later never to return.

Right - A Review of the 'The Intimate Review' at the Duchess Theatre - From the Daily Herald, Thursday March the 13th 1930.

The Duchess Theatre was eighty years old on the 25th of November 2009 and yet it still had its original iron curtain, grid, flies, and hardwood stage in place, and all still working well. The Theatre's lift has recently been put back into service too, with its original 1929 cabin, although it is now operated by modern machinery.

The Duchess Theatre is currently run by Nimax Theatres whose own website can be found here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

A Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre from the pre-computerised days of manual ticketing - Courtesy Martin Clark and Doreen Gould.

Above - A Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre from the pre-computerised days of manual ticketing - Courtesy Martin Clark and Doreen Gould.

A Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre - From 'Who's Who in the Theatre' published in 1930 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Click to see more Seating Plans from this publication.

Above - A Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre - From 'Who's Who in the Theatre' published in 1930 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Click to see more Seating Plans from this publication.

The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'See How They Run'. This photo also shows the site of the former Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych at far centre, being prepared for the construction of an Hotel in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'See How They Run'. This photo also shows the site of the former Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych at far centre, being prepared for the construction of an Hotel in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

A photograph of the Duchess Theatre taken from the roof of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, during the run of 'See How They Run' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - A photograph of the Duchess Theatre taken from the roof of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, during the run of 'See How They Run' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'Bakersfield Mist' with Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid in May 2014 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Duchess Theatre during the run of 'Bakersfield Mist' with Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid in May 2014

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