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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, created The London Coliseum, a Theatre which was designed to be larger in every way than even that of the largest Theatre in London at the time, 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 of the Coliseum, 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 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.

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

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

Left - Click for an article and images on the London Coliseum's Giant Revolve in 1904.

This was the first revolve of its kind to be fitted into a British Theatre, although the London Palladium would later have one too, but 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 in the year 2000.

To see a size comparison of most of London's West End Theatre stages in the 1960s click here.

 

The London Coliseum Auditorium with a packed audience, in the early 1900s - From 'Living London' Volume II Section II by George R. Sims.

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium with a packed audience, in the early 1900s - From 'Living London' Volume II Section II by George R. Sims.

The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.The Building News and Engineering Journal reported on the new London Coliseum Theatre shortly before it opened, in their December 16th 1904 edition saying:- 'Yesterday (Thursday) the colossal building to be known as the Coliseum, in St. Martin's-lane, Charing Cross, was opened to the Press.

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

Till within quite lately the interior presented a forest of scaffolding, columns, and girders. Externally the front to St. Martin's lane is Italian Renaissance in style, finished on the south side by a tower 145ft. in height, crowned by a globe, and having a well-proportioned peristyle over the square rusticated part below, which contains the main entrance. It has an open loggia, crowned by a high-curved roof, finished by a tower-like wing on the north side. Above the facade the huge roof of the auditorium is visible.

 

The Dome above the auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.Messrs. Frank Matcham and Co. are the architects of this gigantic theatre, which covers 1¼ acres of ground formerly occupied by old and dilapidated buildings.

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

The work was commenced about two years ago when the managing director, Mr. Oswald Stoll, began by employing his own labour without a contractor, under Mr. John F. Revell the clerk of works. Subsequently Messrs. Patman and Fotheringham, Ltd. (Mr. James F. Parker, managing director) whose contract was accepted, completed the building.

The interior is very unique in its arrangements. The stage, 83ft. from front to back, has an average width of about 120ft. The roof is no less than 80ft. in height, and the "grid" 70ft. above level of stage. This large area is clear of all supports except two stanchions at the back 60ft. apart from the centres across the stage.

 

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a PostcardThe flies are 43ft. above the stage, and are carried in lattice girders 68ft. long weighing about seven tons each. Two girders 60ft. apart and 68ft. long and 8ft. deep carry the roof trusses, and between these girders are smaller roof trusses, upon the "boom" of which rest the grid . A girder l00ft. long carries a travelling run-way for suspending panorama scenes, &c., and the engineering work was carried out by Messrs. Drew-Bear, Perks, and Co., Ltd., of the Battersea Steel Works.

Right - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From an early Postcard.

The revolving stage is one of the novel features, and consists of three concentric rings, 25ft. wide, which revolve independently, or may be made to revolve together as a whole, which can thus be used for horse-racing and other spectacular effects. The floor is of 2in. teak, and felt-lined to reduce vibration.

Under the floor are tanks to be used for aquatic spectacles, and below this, 35ft. below level of street, one 22ft. by 18ft. by 11ft., holding 20,000 gallons.

 

The Auditorium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.The auditorium, to seat 3,000 persons, is constructed entirely of steel and concrete, with a raking floor with 12in. steppings, and is covered by a dome 22ft. diameter, with a velarium of light material of a decorative character below. One half can be opened to the air or closed on the "hit-and-miss" principle.

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

The corridor at back of stalls is sunk so as to prevent the sight being obstructed, and the gangways also are constructed at the sides. Staircases are placed in the front leading to every part of the building. Three distinct exits are provided from each floor, and there are three tiers, the "grand," the dress-circle, and the amphitheatre. The ground floor is occupied by stalls and boxes.

In the construction of the tiers the architect's patented system has been introduced, consisting of a circular girder with radial girders, which slope down to it. The only cantilevers are those which project from the main circular girder. One great advantage of the radial girders is that the ceiling is regular in its curve and slope.

 

The Proscenium of the London Coliseum in 2007 - Photo M.L.The main girder is supported near the walls 88ft. apart by columns 10in. diameter on ground floor and 7in. on the top floor, with solid steel caps, each column being carried on a concrete steel grillage. The Hennebique reinforced concrete system has been introduced in the front floors from L. G. Mouchel's design, executed by Messrs. Cubitt and Co.

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

The Hathern Station Brick and Terracotta Co., Ltd., Loughborough, supplied the groups of figures and exterior decoration of the whole front and incased the steel framework on the top of tower supporting the revolving globe, so conspicuous a feature from Trafalgar-square.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Building News and Engineering Journal, December 16th 1904.

Another contemporary description and review of the building by the ERA in 1904 can be read here.

 

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 revolving 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.

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.

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 above), M. Volbert, Wright & Lawson, Madge Temple, Odette Valery, Cecilia Loftus, 'Visions of Wagner' produced by Charles Wilson, and the Bioscope.

 

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 on its vast stage at one time or another.

Programme for 'White Horse Inn' at The London Coliseum 1931 - Click to see Entire Programme - Warning Large Page.Right - A Variety Programme for The London Coliseum in 1912. This cover design design lasted until the Theatre's Variety days were over.

However, 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.

Left - A Programme for 'White Horse Inn' at The London Coliseum in 1931 - Click to see Entire Programme.

The production cost £60,000 to put on but amazingly it recouped all its costs before it had even opened, and ran for a furthur 651 performances.

White Horse Inn was followed by another equally massive production, 'Casanova', with music by Johan Strauss, which ran for 429 performances, see image below.

 

The London Coliseum decked out with a bridge and false proscenium, originally constructed for the 1932 production of 'Casanova', in a photograph taken in 1937 - Courtesy Chris Woodward. The Bridge was such an elaborate structure that it proved too difficult to remove and remained in place until it was finally taken down in 1951.

Above - The London Coliseum decked out with a bridge and false proscenium, originally constructed for the 1932 production of 'Casanova', in a photograph taken in 1937 - Courtesy Chris Woodward. The Bridge was such an elaborate structure that it proved too difficult to remove and remained in place until it was finally taken down in 1951.

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...

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

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

 

The London Coliseum decked out with a bridge and false proscenium, originally constructed for the 1932 production of 'Casanova', in a photograph taken in 1937 - Courtesy Chris Woodward. The Bridge was such an elaborate structure that it proved too difficult to remove and remained in place until it was finally taken down in 1951.

Above - The London Coliseum decked out with a bridge and false proscenium, originally constructed for the 1932 production of 'Casanova', in a photograph taken in 1937 - Courtesy Chris Woodward. The Bridge was such an elaborate structure that it proved too difficult to remove and remained in place until it was finally taken down in 1951.

 

Programme for 'The Pajama Game' at the London Coliseum in 1955The London Coliseum in the 1950s - Courtesy Gerry Atkins.'Talkies' arrived at the Coliseum in 1933 and were to run at the Theatre for a year. The greatest sensation at this time was the showing of 'King Kong' which had several showings at the Coliseum every day for months with 10,000 people seeing the film at the Theatre every day.

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 at the time.

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

Another Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953Not 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 full time cinema use, opening in June 1961 with the now classic film, 'Gone With The Wind.'

 Programme for 'Twenty To One' at the London Coliseum with Lupino Lane in 1936.Right - Another Programme for 'Guys and Dolls' at the London Coliseum in 1953.

In 1963 the Theatre was further converted for Cinerama and remained as a cinema until, in 1968, it was fully restored and redecorated, and a large orchestra Pit was 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.'

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

This was such a successful venture that Sadler's Wells stayed in the Theatre, putting on operas and ballets from all over the world.

In 1973 the Sadler's Wells Opera 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 today will prove that this was a worthy endeavor.

You may like to visit ENO's own Website for the Theatre here.

 

The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum Auditorium - From a Postcard in 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 of the London Coliseum, 17th 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.

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

'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.


The bottom of the centre tower of the London Coliseum - Photo M.L. 06 This consists of heavy column pilasters, with bold carved figures at the, corners, 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...

 

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.

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.

 

The London Coliseum Royal Box - From a Postcard 1904

Above - The London Coliseum's Royal Box - From a Postcard in 1904

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

Scene Setting at The London Coliseum - From a Postcard.

Above - Scene Setting at The London Coliseum - 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 London Coliseum Tea Room - From a Postcard 1904

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

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

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

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

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

The above text in quotes was first published in The Era, 17th of December 1904.

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

You may like to visit ENO's own Website here.

 

London's West End Theatres

Adelphi Aldwych Ambassadors Apollo Apollo Victoria Arts Cambridge Charing Cross Theatre Criterion Dominion Drury Lane Duchess Duke Of Yorks Fortune Garrick Gielgud Harold Pinter Haymarket Her Majesty's Leicester Square Theatre London Coliseum London Palladium Lyceum Lyric Menier Chocolate Factory New London Noel Coward Novello Old Vic Palace Peacock Phoenix Piccadilly Playhouse Prince Edward Prince of Wales Queen's Royal Opera House Sadler's Wells Theatre Savoy Shaftesbury St. Martin's Trafalgar Studios / Whitehall Vaudeville Victoria Palace Wyndham's

 

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