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The Leicester Square Theatre, 40 Leicester Square, Westminster

Later - The Olympic Theatre / Odeon West End Cinema

Other Leicester Square Theatres and Cinemas

The Odeon West End, formerly the Leicester Square Theatre, in April 2014 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Odeon West End, formerly the Leicester Square Theatre, in April 2014 - Photo M. L.

 

See Theatreland MapsThe Odeon West End, situated at the south west corner of Leicester Square, which people know today as a Cinema, was actually originally built as a home for both live shows and film presentations, and opened on the 19th of December 1930 as the Leicester Square Theatre. This should not be confused with the current Leicester Square Theatre at 6 Leicester Place which was previously known as the Venue.

The auditorium of the Leicester Square Theatre in January 1968 - Photo by John D. Sharp from the journal of the Cinema Organ Society, June 1970 - Click for many images of the remaining fragments of the auditorium in July 2009.The original Leicester Square Theatre was designed by Andrew Mather and built by Gee. Walker and Slater LTD., for Walter Gibbons and Jack Buchanan. The Theatre was intended to be a home for live performances and light musical comedy but a mix up with land purchase meant that part of the site intended for the new Theatre could not be secured and so the stage ended up being much smaller than originally planned. This would soon prove to be the Theatre's undoing and the project would end up bankrupting Walter Gibbons.

Right - The auditorium of the Leicester Square Theatre in January 1968 shortly before its reconstruction and removal of the organ and balcony later that year - Photo by John D. Sharp from the journal of the Cinema Organ Society, June 1970 - Click for many images of the remaining fragments of the auditorium in July 2009.

The building opened instead as a home for both live shows and Cinema use and the opening production, on the 19th of December 1930, was a showing of the Warner Bros two-tone Technicolor film 'Viennese Nights' and a live dance show on stage.

The Theatre was equipped with a small stage and a working fly tower, dressing rooms, orchestra pit, a Wurlitzer 3Manual / 10Rank Theatre organ, and a flat above the Theatre for Jack Buchanan who lived there until the building suffered some bomb damage during the war. The auditorium originally consisted of Stalls, Circle, and balcony and could accommodate 1,760 people in some comfort.

RKO took over the Theatre in March 1931, and in July Gracie Fields appeared there for a week, twice nightly, along with a film which was a prelude to her first talky 'Sally in our Alley' which opened at the Theatre on the 21st of August. This formed part of 'Fifty Fifty' which was a combined stage and screen presentation featuring Jack Hulbert's song and dance show 'The R.K.O. Loud Speakers,' and of course the Gracie Field's film 'Sally in our Alley.'

 

A Programme for Gordon Courtney's review 'Non-Stop Revels' at the Leicester Square Theatre in 1932.The building was taken over by County Cinemas the following year and they set about altering the Theatre by installing a new revolving stage and having the interior reconstructed by Edward Carrick, along with a new main entrance to the Theatre, which was designed by Alister MacDonald.

The building reopened as the Olympic Theatre on the 21st of March 1932 with the film 'In a Monastry Garden.'

However, this didn't prove any more successful for the building than the previous incarnation and by July Jack Buchanan had taken back control of the Theatre. He then reopened it in August under the management of Gordon Courtney and the name reverted back to the Leicester Square Theatre again.

Courtney introduced live variety shows called the 'Non Stop Revels' and dropped the cinema presentations altogether.

Left - A Programme for Gordon Courtney's review 'Non-Stop Revels' at the Leicester Square Theatre in 1932.

These 'Non Stop Revels' shows were back to back non stop performances which would go on from 2pm until midnight every day.

 

 A Programme for Gordon Courtney's review 'Non-Stop Revels' at the Leicester Square Theatre in 1932.

Above - A Programme for Gordon Courtney's review 'Non-Stop Revels' at the Leicester Square Theatre in 1932.

 

The Odeon West End, formerly the Leicester Square Theatre, in September 2008 - Photo M.L.The following year, after 'Non Stop Revels' finished in the late summer of 1933, the Theatre was closed again and the building was taken over by United Artists who reopened it on the 27th of September 1933 as a full time Cinema. Ironically the first film to be shown was one produced by Jack Buchanan himself, and called 'That's a Good Girl'.

As a Cinema the building had better fortunes and after it opened as such in September 1933 it would never again be home to live productions. United Artists ran the building as their first run house in London until 1937, after which it was taken over by General Film Distributors in 1938 and would later become part of the Rank Organisation.

The building suffered some bomb damage during the war and was closed for nearly a year between 1940 and 1941. After the war reopening the building as a live theatre again was strongly mooted but sadly in the end nothing came of it and the building in fact remained as a full time Cinema.

Right - The Odeon West End, formerly the Leicester Square Theatre, in September 2008 - Photo ML.

In July 1946 Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Theatres Ltd. took control of the building and ran it until 1950 when it was closed for remedial work to the bomb damaged parts of the building, and there were more repairs to the building in 1955.

The Theatre then continued as a Cinema until 1968 when it was closed after the last showing of 'Carry On Doctor' so that major reconstruction work could be carried out.

 

For images of the remaining fragments of the original auditorium, now hidden beneath a false ceiling click here.At this time the Theatre Organ and the balcony were removed and the interior was reconstructed by the architects Arnold Dick Associates with interior designs by Cassidy, Farrington and Dennys. The Theatre reopened with a slightly lower capacity of 1,402 on the 12th of December 1968 with the film 'Shalako.'

Left - Remaining fragments of the original auditorium of the Leicester Square Theatre, now hidden beneath a false ceiling. Many more images of the remaining fragments of the Theatre can be seen here.

Renamed Odeon West End in July 1988 the Theatre would once again close down for major reconstruction a few years later when in 1991 the Theatre was twinned by creating one screen in the original circle, now floored down to the proscenium, and another larger screen in the former stalls and occupying part of the original stage.

 

The Leicester Square Theatre in 1939 - From a postcard The Odeon West End in July 2009, formerly known as the Leicester Square Theatre. - Photo M.L.

Above Left - The Leicester Square Theatre in 1939 - From a postcard - And right - The Odeon West End in July 2009, formerly known as the Leicester Square Theatre.

The Odeon West End's number two screen projection box in July 2009 - Photo M.L.In October of 2008 Westminster Council approved the demolition of the Theatre so that an Hotel could be built on the site, with two small Screens of 440 and 200 seats constructed in the basement. Demolition of the Theatre and the rest of this large block at the south west corner of Leicester Square was projected to begin in the spring of 2010 but was delayed several times and eventually cancelled.

Right - The Odeon West End's number two screen projection box in July 2009

A new plan by The Edwardian Group for demolition of the Theatre and the construction of a ten storey building comprising of an Hotel, Spa, and a two screen replacemnet cinema was approved by Westminster Council in January 2014 despite objections from English Heritage who said that the plans would demolish a "swathe of buildings which make a vital contribution to the architectural and historic character, appearance and significance of Leicester Square", and that the new building would "tower over the National Gallery, a grade I listed building and harm both the historic setting of that building and that of Trafalgar Square" - Source BBC News where there is also an image of the proposed new building.

The demolition of the former Leicester Square Theatre will be a sad end for Leicester Square as it is one of the last iconic buildings left in an area which was once the heart of London's West End Theatreland.

For more information on Leicester Square's Theatrical heritage see this page.

You may like to visit the Odeon West End's own Website here.

 

Some images of the former Leicester Square Theatre

From the roof of the auditorium of the Leicester Square Theatre can be seen the exterior of some of the FOH offices and to the right, the original Film Safe for the building. - Photo M.L.

Above - From the roof of the auditorium of the Leicester Square Theatre can be seen the exterior of some of the FOH offices and to the right, the original Film Safe for the building.

Remaining fragments of the original ceiling at the rear of the former balcony of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009 - To see more of these images click here. - Photo M.L.

Above - Remaining fragments of the original ceiling at the rear of the former balcony of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009 - To see more of these images click here.

art of the Fly Tower and auditorium roof of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009 - Photo M.L.

Above - Part of the Fly Tower and auditorium roof of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009

The original projector rectifiers still situated in a room beside the old projection box of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009  - Photo M.L.

Above - The original projector rectifiers still situated in a room beside the old projection box of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009

The shaft entering the plenum chamber in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre which provided ventilation for the auditorium and amazingly is still used to ventilate the Odeon West End cinemas today. - Photo M.L.

Above - The shaft entering the plenum chamber in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre which provided ventilation for the auditorium and amazingly is still used to ventilate the Odeon West End cinemas today.

Inside the stage door of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009 - Last used in 1933 when the Theatre was still in use as a live Theatre but still remaining today. The stage door entrance itself is now used as an entrance to the Odeon West End's offices. - Photo M.L.

Above - Inside the stage door of the Leicester Square Theatre in July 2009 - Last used in 1933 when the Theatre was still in use as a live Theatre but still remaining today. The stage door entrance itself is now used as an entrance to the Odeon West End's offices.

The Side Elevation of the Odeon West End in July 2009, showing the original dressing room block and Stage Door entrance of the Leicester Square Theatre. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Side Elevation of the Odeon West End in July 2009, showing the original dressing room block and Stage Door entrance of the Leicester Square Theatre.

The Rear Elevation of the Odeon West End in July 2009, showing the original Stage House and Fly Tower of the Leicester Square Theatre. - Photo M.L.

Above - The Rear Elevation of the Odeon West End in July 2009, showing the original Stage House and Fly Tower of the Leicester Square Theatre.

The Leicester Square Theatre, currently known as the Odeon West End, in December 2008 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Leicester Square Theatre, currently known as the Odeon West End, in December 2008

The Leicester Square Theatre in 2005, currently known as the Odeon West End, - Photo M.L.

Above - The Leicester Square Theatre in 2005, currently known as the Odeon West End

Index to other Theatres and Cinemas in London's Leicester Square