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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 a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.comSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe 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.


The Circle and Ceiling of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.The stage and Proscenium of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.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 Stalls of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.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.

Right - Four views of the Auditorium and Stage of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s.

The Duchess Theatre was constructed by F. G. Minter Ltd. in a 'Modern Tudor 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 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 1920s Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre

Above - A 1920s Seating Plan for the Duchess Theatre

 

View of the concealed lighting in the stalls of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.View of the concealed lighting in the stairway of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.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.

Right - Two Views of the concealed lighting in the stalls and stairways of the Duchess Theatre in the 1990s. - Photo M.L.

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.

The Duchess 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.

 

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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