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Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket, London, SW1

Formerly - The Queen's Theatre / King's Theatre / His Majesty's Theatre / Italian Opera House

Introduction - 1st Theatre - 2nd Theatre - 3rd Theatre - 4th and Present Theatre

Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' in October 2006.

Above - Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' in October 2006.

 

 

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 MapsHer Majesty's Theatre, the Theatre which we know today, which is situated on the Haymarket in London opposite the Theatre Royal Haymarket, opened on the 28th of April 1897 with a play called 'Seats of the Mighty' by Gilbert Parker. Before the play an Inaugural Address was given by Mrs. Tree, whose husband, Beerbohm Tree, produced the play. The Theatre was the last completed work of the eminent Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps in his lifetime. The present Her Majesty's Theatre is actually the fourth Theatre on the site, the first opened in 1705. There now follows details of each Theatre in chronological order.

 

The First Theatre - 1705

A Sketch of the 1705 Queen's Theatre, Later the Italian Opera House, Haymarket, London - From the ERA, 1st January 1843

Above - A Sketch of the 1705 Queen's Theatre, Later the Italian Opera House, Haymarket, London - From the ERA, 1st January 1843 - To see more of these Sketches click here.

 

The first Theatre on the site of the present Her Majesty's was the Queen's Theatre, named in honour of Queen Anne, which was built by Sir John Vanbrugh on land which was a former Stable Yard in the Haymarket. The land was bought at the considerable cost, considering the time, of £2000 and the Theatre opened under the management of William Congreve on the 9th of April 1705 with an opera called 'The Loves of Ergasto' by Giacomo Greber.

The Theatre was not a success however, and was described as being better looking than it was functional, apparently the acoustics were terrible. The Theatre was later turned over to Italian Opera in 1709. It was here that Handel produced his first opera in England, 'Rinaldo' which was finally a success for this massive Theatre, and Handel went on to produce a number of operas there.

The ERA printed an article about this first Theatre in their 1st of January 1843 edition saying:- 'The performance of operas had for many years been continued at the Old Theatre or Opera House, in the Haymarket, when that structure was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the month of June 1789. In consequence of this accident, the Opera was transferred, first, to the Little Theatre in the Haymarket, and subsequently to the Pantheon, which was licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and opened under the management of Mr. O'Reilly.

During this interval, Mr. Taylor, the proprietor of the Old Opera House, exerted himself so successfully in expediting its rebuilding, that the foundation of the new erection was laid early in 1790. The Earl of Buckinghamshire, a great lover and supporter of the opera, officiated in laying the first stone of the building, which was completed—so rapidly were the operations conducted—in less than a year from the commencement.

The ground on which the New House was erected was part of the demesnes of the crown, and was let on lease by Mr. Holloway, who granted it to Mr. Taylor.

The season of 1791, during which the opera had been conducted at the Pantheon, had proved so little favourable to Mr Reilly, the manager, that debts to the amount of thirty thousand pounds had been incurred in the concern. On the new Opera House being completed, an outline for a general opera establishment was proposed by Mr. Taylor, along with Messrs. Sheridan, Holloway, and Sheldon, with the approbation of George the Fourth, then Prince of Wales, the Duke of Bedford, and the Marquis of Salisbury. The terms of this intended arrangement were, that the debts of the Pantheon should be transferred to the New Theatre; that the licence for performing operas at the former theatre should be determined, and one granted to the new theatre 'exclusively'; and that the direction should be reposed in five noblemen.

The fourth and present Theatre when it was known as 'His Majesty's Theatre' from a postcard of 1902.A material obstacle, however, presented itself to those carrying this arrangement into effect. The then Lord Chamberlain refused to licence the new theatre. How long this unforseen occurrence might have kept the main object of the theatre in suspension is uncertain; but the fate of the Pantheon, which was consumed by fire in the following year, removed the impediment, and the Theatre being licensed, commenced the regular business of the opera.

No nomination of directors had been made by the personages entitled to the appointment, the entire management of the theatre was exercised by Mr. Taylor until 1803.

Right - The fourth and present Theatre when it was known as 'His Majesty's Theatre' from a postcard of 1902.

In undertaking the Opera, of which he was proprietor previous to the burning down in 1789, this gentleman deviated widely from his original destination in life. He was originally a clerk in the bank of Snow and Co., in the City. His cleverness and acuteness procured him considerable reputation. But the climate of Snow and Co.'s bank was, as he expressed it, too cold for his complexion. He got rid of this ground of complaint admirably well, by becoming proprietor of the Queen's Theatre, which was hot water for life to him.

In 1803, Mr. Taylor sold to Mr. Francis Goold one-third of his property in the opera, and subsequently a larger proportion; and from the time of Mr. Goold's first purchase to his death, in 1807, (which the trouble and anxiety arising from his connexion with the theatre was supposed to hasten,) he alone conducted the opera. Catalini was the great attraction of his management, and her successive engagement entailed on the theatre an expense surpassing what had been before experienced. Mr. Waters, in a pamphlet he afterwards published, gives the total amount revived by her from the theatre in the season 1807, including benefits, at five thousand pounds, and her total profits that year, with concerts, progress in the country, &c., at sixteen thousand seven hundred pounds,—an immense sum to be received in such a period, for the gratification afforded to the public by one individual's powers.

Scarcely was Mr. Goold dead, than the disputes commenced between Mr. Waters, his acting executor, and Mr. Taylor, which involved the opera in litigation apparently interminable.

Programme for 'The Gordian Knot' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.Mr. Waters eventually opened the House, under his sole management, he having become, in 1814, the purchaser. The season of 1820 was, however, abruptly concluded; and Mr. Ebers, the eminent bookseller, (from whose statement the preceding account is extracted,) succeeded in the management as Lessee. He found it, however, after all his exertions, a losing concern nor has any individual, since his occupation; (including Mr.. Monk Mason and M. Laporte) been more fortunate,—such is the magnitude of the undertaking and the exorbitant salaries demanded by the principal singers and dancers. The distinguishing plan of the Italian Opera House is, that its chief support is derived from subscribers, and takers of boxes for the season, rather than from nightly audiences.

Left - A Programme for 'The Gordian Knot' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.

The Opera House is one of largest theatres in 'Europe, and much surpasses either Covent Garden or Drury Lane, both in dimensions and aristocratical attendance. The principal elevation (exhibited in our cut) is towards the Haymarket, and presents a long and somewhat rambling front. The entire building is surrounded by a colonnade.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 1st January 1843.

A General Ticket of Admission Token for the King's Theatre in 1778, with the moniker R. B. Sheridan Esq - Courtesy Alan Judd.After Queen Anne died the Theatre was renamed the King's Theatre, in 1714, and Handel continued successfully at the Theatre until 1734.

A General Ticket of Admission Token for the King's Theatre in 1778, with the moniker R. B. Sheridan Esq - Courtesy Alan Judd.In 1778 the lease for the theatre was transferred from James Brook to Thomas Harris, stage manager of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and to the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan for £22,000.

Left and Right - A General Ticket of Admission Token for the King's Theatre in 1778, with the moniker R. B. Sheridan Esq - Courtesy Alan Judd.

The interior of the King's Theatre was remodeled the same year, in 1778, by the infamous Robert Adam, and then again in 1782, but less successfully, by Michael Novosielski. Sadly this Theatre burnt to the ground on the 17th of June 1789.

 

The Second Theatre - 1791

An Indenture for the King's Theatre, Haymarket signed on the 10th of November 1794 - Courtesy John Davies - Click to Enlarge.An Indenture for the King's Theatre, Haymarket, signed on the 24th of July 1793 - Courtesy John Davies. - Click to EnlargeThe second Theatre on a now enlarged site retained the former's name of King's Theatre. This Theatre was built by Michael Novosielski and opened on the 26th of March 1791 with a song and dance entertainment.

Right - Two Indentures for the King's Theatre, Haymarket, signed on the 24th of July 1793 and the 10th of November 1794 - Courtesy John Davies - Click to Enlarge.

On opening it was the largest Theatre in England and thought of at the time as the most resplendent in the world. For three years until 1794 the Theatre was home to the Drury Lane Company whilst their Theatre was being rebuilt, (a Theatre which would itself burn down only a few years later.) The King's Theatre was reconstructed by John Nash and George Repton from 1816 to 1818 when the auditorium was remodeled with a new capacity of 2,500, a colonnade was added to the exterior, and the Royal Opera Arcade was added at the rear of the building. Despite the alterations the Theatre was not successful until 1830 when it became known as the Italian Opera House again, which soon became the place to visit, and to be be seen in, in London and was even mentioned in guide books. Indeed 'The Illustrated London News' August 26th 1848 reports on Jenny Lind at Her Majesty's Theatre. Click for more information.the Theatre became a social magnet for the elite of society. During this time the Theatre was home to Ballet and Opera. In 1837 the name was changed to His Majesty's Theatre, Italian Opera House, but the Italian Opera House part was dropped in 1847.

On May the 4th of that year the debut of an unknown actress sparked something of a sensation at the Theatre, her name was Jenny Lind and she was so successful that her period at the Theatre was later to become known as 'Lind Mania.'

Left - 'The Illustrated London News' August 26th 1848 reports on Jenny Lind at Her Majesty's Theatre. Click for more.

The Theatre's end came in 1867 when it was destroyed by fire in less than an hour, taking with it many of the shops in the adjoining 'Opera Arcade'.

 

Postcard of the Haymarket, London looking up towards Piccadilly and showing Her Majesty's Theatre on the left and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on the right.

Above - Postcard of the Haymarket, London looking up towards Piccadilly and showing Her Majesty's Theatre on the left and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on the right.

 

The Third Theatre - 1868

Programme for 'The Merry Wives Of Windsor' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the reign of Beerbohm Tree.The third Theatre on the site, and called Her Majesty's Theatre, was designed by Charles Lee and Sons and Pain, and was built by George Trollope and Sons, within the shell of the previously destroyed Theatre.

Right - A Programme for 'The Merry Wives Of Windsor' at Her Majesty's Theatre in 1902, during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.

Building began in 1868 and was finished in 1869. The new Theatre had a capacity of 1,890 but remained empty until 1874 when it was bought for £31,000 and used for Revivalist Meetings. The ERA printed an article about the sale in their 24th of May 1874 edition saying:-

'This vast structure, which has never been opened since it took the place of the old Theatre, destroyed by fire December 6th, 1867, seems now likely to be identified with fresh triumphs of lyric art. On Wednesday Her Majesty's Theatre, together with a number of houses and shops in Pall-mall, the Opera-arcade, in the Haymarket, and the United Hotel and Clergy Club, in Charles-street, Haymarket, were sold by auction by Messrs Chinnock, Galsworthy, and Chinnock, at the Mart, Okenhouse-yard. The printed particulars stated that the property was sold by direction of the trustees of Mr E. H. Holloway. There were twenty-one lots, the first lot being Her Majesty's Theatre, now held under lease, by Earl Dudley, as assignee of Mr Benjamin Lumley, and producing a present net income of £1,171 14s. per annum until Michaelmas, 1891, when the lease expires, and the purchaser will be entitled to possession for the remainder of a term expiring in 1912, when the estate falls to the Crown. The auctioneer stated that at the expiration of Lord Dudley's term the property would become free from any charge, the present right in the boxes and stalls altogether expiring in 1891, which would considerably enhance the annual value of the property. There could be no doubt that it was one of the finest Theatres in the world, and why it had been closed so long he was unable to say, and more especially so when it was known that there were now tenants ready to come forward prepared to give a rental of £5,000 a year for it and spend £20,000 on the building. He then stated that the property must be sold, as the trustees did not wish to hold it any longer, and he had every confidence that it would be absolutely sold when his hammer fell. He then invited biddings, when £15,000 was offered. This was almost immediately followed by a bid of £20,000, the biddings quickly rising by an advance of £1,000, until £27,000 was reached. At this point there was a pause, on which the auctioneer said he wished them to understand that the sale was bona fide, and that there was no reserve. The Theatre would be sold at the fall of his hammer. The biddings then quickly rose to £31,000, and at this sum the property was knocked down to Mr Last, solicitor, who was understood to have purchased the Theatre for a principal whose name was not mentioned. The next lots offered were the Opera-arcade property, held under the same terms of lease as the Theatre - an unexpired term of thirty-eight years. Four of these lots consisted of the houses and shops, No. 3, 4, 5, and 5½ Pall mall, the two first lots being sold for £4,500 each, and the two last for £4,000 each, making a total of £17,000. Thirteen lots, consisting of shops in the Opera-arcade, were next offered, and eight of these lots were sold for an aggregate sum of £8,680, five of the lots being withdrawn. The remaining portion of the property, consisting of the United Hotel and Clergy Club, comprising Nos. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24, Charles-street, and 71, Haymarket, was next offered. The first bid was £10,000, which at once rose to £20,000, and ultimately the property was sold for £27,000, Mr Cooper, solicitor, being the purchaser. The entire proceeds of the sale amounted to £83,680.'

Text in quotes above from the ERA 24th of May 1874.

The Theatre was used for Revivalist Meetings until the 28th of April 1877 when it finally opened as a legitimate Theatre with the opera 'Norma' by Bellini.

This was the Theatre in which the first performance of Bizet's 'Carmen' was staged, on June the 22nd of 1878, and in 1882 the first performance in England of 'The Ring' opened there. However even this Theatre was demolished in 1892 leaving the Royal Opera Arcade, designed by John Nash, still standing behind in its remains.

 

The fourth and present Theatre - 1897

An early postcard depicting the fourth Theatre on the site, here as it was renamed in 1902 to His Majesty's Theatre with the permission of Edward VII .

Above - An early postcard depicting the fourth Theatre on the site, here as it was renamed in 1902 to His Majesty's Theatre with the permission of Edward VII .

Advertisement for the Carlton Hotel - From a programme for Her Majesty's Theatre in the 1930s.Seating Plan for His Majesty's Theatre - Pre 1907 - Click to EnlargeThe fourth and present Theatre, also named Her Majesty's, was designed by C. J. Phipps on part of the long vacant site of the third. Its foundation stone was laid on the 16th of July 1896, some four years after the last building was demolished. The rest of the previous Theatre's site was later to become The Carlton Hotel, a companion to the Theatre, and also designed by Phipps, but only completed after his death by Isaacs and Florence. The Carlton Hotel was eventually demolished to make way for the present and rather obtrusive New Zealand House next door.

Right - An advertisement for the Carlton Hotel - From a Programme for Her Majesty's Theatre in the 1930s.

Her Majesty's Theatre was built for Herbert Beerbohm Tree by C J Phipps and Romaine Walker at a cost of £55,000 and opened on the 28th of April 1897 with a capacity of approximately 1,319 on four levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, Upper Circle, and Gallery. The current capacity in 2006 is a more modest 1210. The stage was 34' wide by 45' 6" deep.

The manifest for this new theatre, reprinted in 'The Theatres Of London' by Mander and Mitchenson, said:

'On the ground floor, level with the street, will be found Orchestral Stalls, Pit Stalls and the Pit. The first floor will be devoted to the Dress Circle and Family Circle. The second tier consists of the Upper Circle, Amphitheatre and the Gallery behind.

 

C. J. Phipps' Carlton Hotel under construction.

Above - C. J. Phipps' Carlton Hotel under construction, completed after his death by Isaacs and Florence. The Hotel was a companion to Her Majesty's Theatre, also shown in the photograph, and also designed by Phipps. The Carlton Hotel was eventually demolished to make way for the present and rather obtrusive New Zealand House next door.

 

Programme for 'King Henry VIII' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.Programme for 'Trilby' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree. The five doorways in the centre of the Haymarket facade underneath the loggia open into a vestibule exclusively for the use of the two classes of the Stalls and the Dress and Family Circles, and the Stalls have a third way out, level with the pavement in Charles Street.

Left - A Programme for 'Trilby' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.

Right - A Programme for 'King Henry VIII' at Her Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.

 

A 1970s Seating Plan for Her majesty's Theatre

Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for Her majesty's Theatre

 

Programme for 'The Ballad-Monger', 'Flodden Field' and 'The Man Who Was' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.The style adopted for the auditorium of the theatre is Louis XIV. There are private boxes on each of the tiers adjoining the proscenium and separated from it and other parts of the auditorium by marble columns. The hangings are of cerise-coloured embroidered silk and the walls generally are covered with a paper of the same tone. The seating for Stalls, Dress and Family Circles is in arm chairs, covered with velvet the same colour as the curtains.The Tableau curtains are of velvet of a similar tone The Royal Opera Arcade, designed by John Nash, behind Her Majesty's Theatre in October 2006 - Photo M.L.behind which is the Act Drop of tapestry copied from one of the Gobelin Tapestries now in Paris.

Left - A Programme for 'The Ballad-Monger', 'Flodden Field' and 'The Man Who Was' at His Majesty's Theatre during the Reign of Beerbohm Tree.

The whole of the theatre and annexes are lighted by the Electric Light taken from three centres, so that should any one centre fail, the other systems are always available. Hanging from the ceiling is a cut glass and brass electrolier and brackets of Louis XIV style are fixed round the box fronts and on the side walls.'

Right - The Royal Opera Arcade, designed by John Nash, behind Her Majesty's Theatre in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Programme for 'Drake' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1914.Her Majesty's Theatre was run for many years by Herbert Beerbohm Tree and very successfully too, with 'spectacular revivals of Shakespeare's plays' amongst many others. In1902 the Theatre changed its name to His Majesty's Theatre with the permission of Edward VII and in 1904, the year of Arthur Lloyd's death, Tree founded a school of dramatic art which was later to become the now famous RADA.

Left - A Programme for 'Drake' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1914.

 

A Programme for 'Chu Chin Chow' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1919 - Courtesy Roy CrossIn 1911 a Gala was held at the Theatre in honour of the coronation of George V. In 1916 the Theatre staged the phenomenally successful 'Chu Chin Chow which opened on the 31st of August. This 'Musical Tale of the East,' as it was described at the time, ran for 2,238 performances, and became the longest running production in history until it was superseded by 'The Mousetrap' in 1958.

(The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on the 25 November 1952 and transferred to the St. Martin's Theatre in 1974 where it is still going strong in 2006 despite being in its 54th year.)

Right - A Programme for 'Chu Chin Chow' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1919 - Courtesy Roy Cross. This programme has a penciled in date on the cover for Friday April 25th 1919, the Third Year of this extremely successful production at the Theatre. The cast at this time were Oscar Asche, James Herbert, Courtice Pounds, J. V. Bryant, Bernard Dudley, Fred Martin, Frank Cochrane, Charles Wingrove, Stanley Arthur, Frederick Pattrick, Aileen D'orme, Sydney Fairbrother, Bessie Major, Annie Moore, Lisa Coleman, Ray Doree, Pauline Russell, Lily Brayton, George Parker Julian Cross, Millicent Cane, Henry Rabke, Madge Stuart, and Gladys Ellam Dacia.

 

 

Programme for Noel Coward's 'Operette' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1938.Programme for Noel Coward's 'Conversation Piece' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1934.Her Majesty's Theatre has had many other successes throughout the years, to mention them all here would be too much but just a few of them follow; 'The Co-Optimists' in 1925 and 1926; Noel Coward's 'Bitter Sweet' in 1929...

Left - A Programme for Noel Coward's 'Operette' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1938.

Right - A Programme for Noel Coward's 'Conversation Piece' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1934.

...Henry IV, part 1 in 1935; 'The Happy Hypocrite' with Ivor Novello and Vivien Leigh in 1936; Idiot's Delight' in 1939; 'The Merry Widow' in 1943; 'Irene' in 1945; 'Brigadoon' in 1949; 'West Side Story' from 1958 to 1961 ; 'The Pirates of Penzance' and 'H.M.S. Pinafore' in rep in 1962; 'The Right Honorable Gentleman' in 1964; 'Fiddler on the Roof' from 1967 to 1971 and 2,030 performances...

 

A Programme for Lee Tracy and Tatiana Lieven in 'Idiots Delight' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.Left - A Programme for Lee Tracy and Tatiana Lieven in 'Idiots Delight' at His Majesty's Theatre in 1939 - Kindly Donated by Clive Crayfourd.

A programme for 'Ipi Tombi' whilst at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977, before transferring to the Astoria Theatre in 1980 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick - Click to see more information from this programme....Then came 'Pippin', which wasn't a success but was much talked about, in 1973; 'Hair' opened in 1975 and I worked at Her Majesty's on this show myself, my first professional West End production. This was a recreation of the original much talked about Shaftesbury Theatre production. At this time the lighting board at the Theatre was a Strand Light Console, some photos of which can be found on Nick Hunt's website here. Nick has also researched other period Light Consoles and restored to working condition the 60-way Light Console built in 1946 for the Theatre Royal, Bristol, details here.

November 1975 saw the opening of the show 'Ipi Tombi' at Her Majesty's, this all black show was a great success and would later transfer to the Cambridge Theatre in March 1977, and then the Astoria Theatre in February 1980.

Right - A programme for 'Ipi Tombi' whilst at the Cambridge Theatre in 1977, before transferring to the Astoria Theatre in 1980 - Kindly Donated by Linda Chadwick - Click to see more information from this programme.

'Bugsy Malone' opened at the Theatre in 1983; and then, of course, 'The Phantom Of The Opera', opened on the 9th of October 1986 and by October 2011 had clocked up 25 years at the Theatre, and is still running today!

 

Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' which opened on the 9th of October 1986 and and in October 2011 will have been running for 25 years - Photo M.L. October 2006.

Above - Her Majesty's Theatre during the run of 'The Phantom Of The Opera' which opened on the 9th of October 1986 and and in October 2011 will have been running for 25 years - Photo M.L. October 2006.

Her Majesty's Theatre is currently owned and run by the Really Useful Group whose own website can be found here.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

 

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