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The London Coliseum, St. Martin's Lane, London, WC2

The London Coliseum in October 2006

Above - The London Coliseum in October 2006

 

See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsAlthough The London Coliseum is now home to The English National Opera Company it didn't begin life with such high intentions. The Theatre was originally built as a Variety Theatre, and on a huge scale too. It opened on the 24th of December 1904 with, as was intended, a Variety Show.

The London Coliseum from a Postcard 1904.The idea for this Theatre was Oswald Stoll's who in 1902 began to buy up the Freehold of as many buildings as he could on the southern end of St. Martin's Lane until he had acquired a site large enough, more than three quarters of an acre, to house this vast new Theatre. And here it was that the great Theatre architect, Frank Matcham, built The London Coliseum, a Theatre which was designed to be larger in every way than even that of the largest Theatre in London; The Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Right - The London Coliseum from a Postcard 1904.

A very early Variety Programme for the newly built London Coliseum in March 1905 - Click to see entire programme with details of the Theatre, it's designers, and facilities.The auditorium, accommodating 2,358 people, was built on four levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, Grand Tier, and Balcony, and unusually for Theatres of the time this one was designed to have no Pit, an area of the stalls sectioned off from the rest of the Stalls and usually at the back, under the first circle.

Left - A very early Variety Programme for the newly built London Coliseum in March 1905 - Click to see entire programme with details of the Theatre, it's designers, and facilities.

Nowadays the Pit is a term used to refer to the orchestra pit but that's a completely different thing to the Pit of Victorian Theatres where the lower class and rowdy members of the audience would be accommodated. This is why Oswald Stoll didn't add a Pit, so that this Theatre, right from the start would be seen as a place where people could be housed and entertained in comfort and luxury without being subjected to the kind of audience that often inhabited many Music Halls of the time, it was in fact intended as a 'Family House.'

 

The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

 

The London Coliseum from a real photograph early Postcard.The stage of the London Coliseum was also on a vast scale; 55' wide by 92' deep, whereas Drury lane, which was big enough you might think, was a mear 42' wide by 80' deep. The Coliseum stage was also fitted out with a giant revolve, at a cost of £70,000, a vast sum at the time. It had three concentric rings which could all be operated independently and in both directions. This was the first revolve of its kind to be fitted into a British Theatre, although the London Palladium would later have one too, although sadly this was removed some years ago just as the Coliseum's was when the rest of the Theatre was restored to its former glory recently. To see a size comparison of most of London's West End Theatre stages in the 1960s click here...

Left - The London Coliseum from a real photograph early Postcard.

A variety programme for the London Coliseum in 1908. Despite the great expenditure on this Theatre, with its wonderful Terra-cotta Facade, huge and lavish auditorium, sumptuous front of house facilitates, and its innovative stage, the Theatre was a total failure and closed down completely only two years after opening in 1906 and remained closed until December of 1907 when it was reopened and at last became successful.

To read a complete contemporary description and review of the building by The ERA in 1904 see lower down on this page here.

Right - A variety programme for the London Coliseum in 1908. On the Bill were Horace & Olga, Tom Child, John F. Preston's 'Rogues of the Turf' by Max Goldberg, Les Frasettis, the Arthur Lloyd Trio with 'Little Charlie' or 'The Twin Sisters' (see cutting below), M. Volbert, Wright & Lawson, Madge Temple, Odette Valery, Cecilia Loftus, 'Visions of Wagner' produced by Charles Wilson, and the Bioscope.

 

The Arthur Lloyd Trio in their Drawing Room Entertainment 'Little Charlie' or 'The Twin Sisters' , written by the late Arthur Lloyd, from a variety programme for the London Coliseum in 1908.

Above - The Arthur Lloyd Trio in their Drawing Room Entertainment 'Little Charlie' or 'The Twin Sisters' , written by the late Arthur Lloyd, from a variety programme for the London Coliseum in 1908.

 

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard

 

The Auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

 

Variety Programme for The London Coliseum in 1912. This cover design design lasted until the Theatre's Variety days were over.The London Coliseum ran successfully as a Variety Theatre from 1907 until 1931 where nearly all the great Variety stars appeared at one time or another.

Left - A Variety Programme for The London Coliseum in 1912. This cover design design lasted until the Theatre's Variety days were over.

Programme for 'White Horse Inn' at The London Coliseum 1931 - Click to see Entire Programme - Warning Large Page.But in April of 1931 the Theatre ended its Variety career and became a legitimate Theatre with a production of 'White Horse Inn,' a musical on as vast a scale as the Theatre itself with a cast of over 160, three bands, and a huge chorus. It cost £60,000 to put on but recouped all its costs before it had even opened and ran for 651 performances.

Right - A Programme for 'White Horse Inn' at The London Coliseum 1931 - Click to see Entire Programme - Warning Large Page.

This was followed by an equally successful production, 'Casanova', with music by Johan Strauss, which ran 429 performances.

 

Programme for 'Casanova' at The London Coliseum 1932 - Click to see Entire Programme - Warning Large Page.Left - A Programme for 'Casanova' at The London Coliseum 1932 - Click to see Entire Programme - Warning Large Page.

Press reports on the scuffle on the last night of 'Casanova' at The London Coliseum. Click to Enlarge - Warning Large Page. On the last night of Casanova a scuffle occurred between the two actors who alternated playing the lead role for the entire eight months of the run, Arthur Fear, and Charles Mayhew. Mayhew who played it first and went straight into the part on finishing training at Guildhall objected to Fear taking a curtain call in costume on the last night and a fight ensued. The Press jumped on the story and the Daily Mirror filled their entire front page with it. You can see what they said and other Press clippings here...

Right - Press reports on the scuffle on the last night of 'Casanova' at The London Coliseum. Click to Enlarge - Warning Large Page.

 

An article about the revolving stage at the London Coliseum from the 1930s - Courtesy Roger Fox

Above - An article about the revolving stage at the London Coliseum from the 1930s - Courtesy Roger Fox who says 'Apart from the revolve it shows what I think is the cyclorama cloth raised up so that sets can be moved beneath. The cone for this cyclorama was put into store at the time of the recent renovation works. It was installed for White Horse Inn and supplied from Germany by the company which is now SBS of Dresden.

 

Programme for 'The Pajama Game' at the London Coliseum in 1955The London Coliseum in the 1950s - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.And so it went on at the Coliseum, success after success, and in between, there was Variety again, ballet, and at Christmas; Pantomimes.

Left - A Programme for 'The Pajama Game' at the London Coliseum in 1955.

Pantomimes began in 1936 with 'Cinderella,' and would continue regularly until 1946. In 1947 the musical 'Annie Get Your Gun' was staged at the Coliseum and had a staggeringly successful run for the time, of 1,304 performances and three continuous years which was the longest run in Theatrical history.

Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953Right - The London Coliseum in the 1950s - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.

There then followed a long run of major American hits beginning with 'Kiss Me Kate' in 1951, 'Guys And Dolls' in 1953, 'Pajama Game' in 1955, and 'Damn Yankees' in 1957. But this exceptional period did at last come to an end in 1957 when the production of 'The Bells Are Ringing' failed to enthrall anyone.

Left - A Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953

 

The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

The Dome above the auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Dome above the auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.

 

Another Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953 Programme for 'Twenty To One' at the London Coliseum with Lupino Lane in 1936.Not long after this the Sadler's Wells Opera Company came to the Coliseum in 1958 with a production of 'The Merry Widow,' but this too was not overly successful. A few more minor successes did occur but the Theatre's halsion days were over and in May 1961 MGM took a long lease on the Theatre and it was converted for cinema use, opening in June 1961 with the now classic film, 'Gone With The Wind.'

Right - A Programme for 'Twenty To One' at the London Coliseum with Lupino Lane in 1936.

Left - Another Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953.

In 1963 the Theatre was furthur converted for Cinerama and remained as a cinema until in 1968 it was fully restored, redecorated, and a large orchestra Pit installed so that the Sadler's Wells Opera Company could move in, which they did on the 21st of August 1968 with a production of 'Don Giovanni.' This was such a successful venture that Sadler's Wells stayed in the Theatre putting on opera after opera and ballet from all over the world. In 1973 the company became known as The English National Opera Company (ENO) and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1992 ENO acquired the Freehold of the London Coliseum and in 2000 the Company embarked on a four year restoration Programme of the building. A visit to the Theatre now will prove that this was a worthy endeavor without any doubt at all.

There are some of Frank Matcham's original Plans for the Theatre here.

 

The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard 1904

A Seating Plan for the London Coliseum with the English National Opera Company name so probably mid to late 1970s

Above - A Seating Plan for the London Coliseum with the English National Opera Company name so probably mid to late 1970s

 

The Era Review, 17th December 1904.

The London Coliseum first opened on the 24th December 1904 and the week before opening, The ERA printed an extensive review and description of the building in their 17th of December issue which said:

The top of the centre tower of the London Coliseum - Photo M.L. 06 'The Theatre has a frontage of 100 ft to St Martin's Lane, the style adopted is Italian Renaissance, and at one end the facade is carried up terminating with a warm coloured tiled roof, with a cupola over; from here dark granite columns and arches form three openings, one containing windows lighting the typist room, the other the exits from the salon, and the other being the royal entry. Over these openings are windows lighting the managerial offices, and over these again are semi-headed openings divided by columns, and having balconies between each casement windows opening out to same. These form the front of the large refreshment room or roof garden, containing a domed roof formed of glass and iron, and containing quite an unique feature, and one that will be greatly patronised.

Right - The top of the centre tower of the London Coliseum - Photo M.L. 06

In the centre of the block, which contains the principal entrances, arises a large square tower, most artistically designed, and of noble proportions. It is carried up over the bold archway containing the entrances in square rusticated work, with a heavy bold cornice, which forms a base for the more elaborate treatment over. This consists of heavy column pilasters, with bold carved figures at the, corners,

The bottom of the centre tower of the London Coliseum - Photo M.L. 06 representing Art, Music, Science and Architecture. From here the tower assumes different outlines, formed by trusses and niches, and the introduction of sculptured lions; the whole is carried up, getting less in diameter as the top is approached, when the eight figures in the shape of cupids support a large iron revolving globe, to which is attached large electric letters spelling 'Coliseum'.

Right - The bottom of the centre tower of the London Coliseum - Photo M.L. 06.

The restored globe of the London Coliseum in 2006 - Photo M..L. - Click to Enlarge.The globe is made to revolve, and this artistic advertisement can be seen for many miles. A further novelty in advertising is the electric device along the front, which gives the nature of the performance taking place at the time during the evening.

Left - The restored globe of the London Coliseum in 2006 - Photo M..L. - Click to Enlarge.

A veranda covers the pavement in front of the principal entrance, formed of glass and iron, a feature being the way in which the glass is curved in shapes, and the handsome panelled glass in the fascia, the whole when lighted up by electricity forming a very attractive feature in St. Martin's Lane.

 

The London Coliseum Royal Box - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum Royal Box - From a Postcard 1904

The London Coliseum Tea Room - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum Tea Room - From a Postcard 1904

The London Coliseum Auditorium and 'Stage Setting' - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium and 'Stage Setting' - From a Postcard 1904

 

Below the revolving stage at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.The management have instituted a new order of things in more ways than one. The Coliseum is the only theatre in Europe which provides lifts to take the audience to the upper parts of the building. The lifts are intended primarily for elevation to the handsome Terrace Tea Room, which is under the management of Fuller's Ltd., of Regent Street, in whose hands has been placed the refreshment catering throughout the building.

Right - Below the revolving stage at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.

 

A rehearsal at The London Coliseum can be seen going on from the Stage Manager's position in the wings - From a Postcard.The two electric lifts identical with those supplied for the use of His Majesty the King at Epsom and Doncaster, are in the Grand Salon. From the Grand Salon, ladies pass through two draped archways into the Ladies' Boudoir, which is beautifully fitted. Through the Grand Salon is the Royal Entry. Immediately on entering the theatre, a Royal party will step into a richly furnished lounge, which at a signal will move softly along on a track formed in the floor, through the salon and into a large foyer, which contains the entrance to the Royal Box. The lounge car remains in the position at the entrance to the box and serves as an ante-room during the performance.

Left - A rehearsal at The London Coliseum can be seen going on from the Stage Manager's position in the wings - From a Postcard.

Large handsomely draped openings divide the Grand Salon from the Grand Staircase. From the ground floor or entrance level the marble staircase is continued down to the large Baronial Smoking Hall, for the use of all parts of the house. There are spacious tea rooms in every tier-the Terrace Tea Room, Grand Tier Tea Room and Balcony Tea Room. There are also Confectionery Stalls and an American Bar. Dainty Snacks at moderate charges can be obtained all day in the theatre. Five o'clock tea between three to five and six to eight performances will be a specialty. The Terrace Tea Room (which is for the use of Private Box and all Stall patrons) can be reached by the Grand Staircase, or by lift from the Grand Entrance. The Grand Tier Tea Room (on the left of Grand Tier) is on the Grand Tier Staircase. The Balcony Tea Room on the left of the Balcony is on the Balcony Entrance Staircase. In each tea room there is a kiosk (Ticket Office and Information Bureau) where seats for the next performance and transfer tickets are to be obtained. To the left of the Grand Entrance on entering there is an information bureau. Physicians and others expecting urgent telephone Scene Setting at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.calls or telegrams should leave a notification of the number of the seat they are occupying. If a message comes they will be instantly informed. Brief messages maybe typed at and dispatched from the Bureau. Telegrams will also be dispatched and stamps sold.

Right - Scene Setting at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.

There is a Public Telephone, and a District Messenger Call. A Pillar Box will be found in the Grand Entrance Hall. Large cloak-rooms and retiring

The Lighting Switchboard and Revolve Control at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.rooms fitted with every accommodation are provided on the latest and most improved principles. There are no fees.

Right - The Lighting Switchboard and Revolve Control at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.

All the seats are comfortable, richly upholstered, and provided with arm-rests. Every seat in the house is numbered and reserved, and can be booked in advance. There are four performances daily and each lasts two hours. The first commences at 12 o'clock noon. The second commences at 3 o'clock p.m. The third commences at 6 o'clock p.m. The fourth commences at 9 o'clock p.m. The first and third performances are alike, so are the second and fourth. During the one-hour intervals between the performances, a band will play in the Terrace Tea Room.'

Text above from The Era, 17th of December 1904.

 

The London Coliseum looking towards Trafalgar Square in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The London Coliseum looking towards Trafalgar Square in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

 

Side elevation of The London Coliseum in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - Side elevation of The London Coliseum in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

 

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