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The Novello Theatre, Aldwych, London, W.C.2

Formerly - The Waldorf Theatre / Strand Theatre / Whitney Theatre

The Novello Theatre during production for Mamma Mia in September 2012 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Novello Theatre during production for Mamma Mia in September 2012 - Photo M.L.

 

 

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 MapsThe Novello Theatre has had many changes of name over the years. Designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague it originally opened in 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre. But the Theatre has also been known variously as the Whitney Theatre, the Strand Theatre (twice), and in 2005, it was renamed the Novello Theatre. All these various incarnations are detailed below in chronological order.

 

The Waldorf Theatre - From a period postcard.The Waldorf Theatre was built by S. and J. Waring for a group of business men called the Waldorf Theatre Syndicate Ltd., and then leased to the Shubert Brothers, although Sam Shubert died in a train accident in May 1905, so it was his brother Lee Shubert who took over the running of the Theatre when it was finished later that month.

A programme for 'Lights Out' at the Waldorf Theatre in October 1905, one of the first plays to be produced at the Waldorf in its opening year. The Theatre opened as the Waldorf Theatre on the 22nd May 1905 with an Opera by Ferdinand Paer, 'Il Maestro di Capella,' which was part of the opening season of plays and operas presented by Eleanora Duse.

Left - The Waldorf Theatre - From a period postcard.

Right - A programme for 'Lights Out' at the Waldorf Theatre in October 1905, one of the first plays to be produced at the Waldorf in its opening year.

The Theatre was built as part of the Aldwych reconstruction which began at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Four theatres were demolished when London's Aldwych, named after the Old Wych Street, was constructed.

This vast operation began in the last years of the nineteenth century and was not finally completed until after the First World War. The Olympic Theatre in Wych Street and the Opera Comique in the Strand were closed in 1899, the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street shut its doors in 1902. This was followed by the closure of the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand in June of the same year.

 

A detail from a programme for 'Lights Out' at the Waldorf Theatre in October 1905, one of the first plays to be produced at the Waldorf in its opening year.

Above - A detail from a programme for 'Lights Out' at the Waldorf Theatre in October 1905, one of the first plays to be produced at the Waldorf in its opening year.

 

The Waldorf Theatre, Aldwych - From an early postcard

Above - The Waldorf Theatre, Aldwych - From an early postcard

 

The Waldorf Theatre was constructed at the bottom corner of Catherine Street - the top end of which houses the fourth and present Theatre Royal Drury Lane which has been open since 1812. The Waldorf Theatre was part of a vast new building consisting of the Waldorf Theatre itself, the new Waldorf Hotel in the center, and at the far end, the Aldwych Theatre. Both Theatres were designed by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague and given identical exteriors.

Early postcard showing the Waldorf Theatre and Hotel, and the Aldwych Theatre, far right.

Above - Early postcard showing the Waldorf Theatre, the Waldorf Hotel, and the Aldwych Theatre, far right.

Period postcard with map showing the Waldorf Hotel, and the Waldorf , Aldwych and Gaiety Theatres.Just prior to the Theatre's opening the ERA printed a description of the new Waldorf Theatre in it's 20th May 1905 edition saying:- 'The decorative scheme of the interior is in the Louis XIV style. The walls of the crush room and main staircase are adorned with alternate stripes of dove coloured and violet marble, and the balustrade of the staircase is a wrought iron copy of one of Baron's famous designs.

Right - A Period postcard with map showing the Waldorf Hotel, and the Waldorf , Aldwych and Gaiety Theatres.

The auditorium of the Waldorf Theatre in 1905.On the first tier level is the refreshment saloon, decorated in cream and gold. In the auditorium the colour scheme is Rose du Barri, relieved by richly gilt circle fronts, and by a touch of green in the French tapestries upholstering the stalls and dress circle; a qualifying note being struck in the brown French walnut of the seat frames.

Left - The auditorium of the Waldorf Theatre in 1905.

One of the notable features is a magnificent circular ceiling in modelled plaster with finely gilt centre piece and outer border, and a boldly treated picture sweeping round the two, painted after the style of Le Brun.

 

An early Seating Plan for the Strand Theatre, formerly the Waldorf Theatre and now the Novello - Click to Enlarge.Programme for 'Dorothy' presented by Eleanora Duse at the Waldorf Theatre in 1905. - Click for details. - Courtesy Crispin Cockman.The bas relievo modelling of the tympanum which surmounts the proscenium represents Apollo in his chariot drawn by four spirited horses, and attended by goddesses and cupids. The action is full of vigour, combined with delicacy of touch.

Left - An early Seating Plan for the Strand Theatre, formerly the Waldorf Theatre and now the Novello - Click to Enlarge.

Right - A Programme for 'Dorothy' which was part of the opening season of plays and operas presented by Eleanora Duse at the Waldorf Theatre in its opening year of 1905 - Courtesy Crispin Cockman - Click for details.

A deep cornice in Louis XIV style runs round the theatre, and over the proscenium opening and boxes. The proscenium opening and the dress and upper circle are supported by pilasters of Fleur de peche marble with gilt capitals; and between the smaller pilasters on the dress circle and stalls level lofty mirrors reach to the cornice. The prevailing tone of Rose du Barri is continued in a deep velvet pile carpet of the same colour.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 20th May 1905.

 

The Waldorf Hotel with the Waldorf (Now Strand) Theatre (left) and the Aldwych Theatre (right) c.1906.

Above - The Waldorf Hotel with the Waldorf (now Novello) Theatre (left) and the Aldwych Theatre (right) c.1906. The corner of the Gaiety Theatre may just be seen at the extreme left foreground. Opposite the Waldorf Theatre, on Catherine Street is the 'unique site' which because of an Ancient Lights ruling remained vacant until 1925 when the Duchess Theatre was built on part of it. On the horizon, behind the Aldwych Theatre may be glimpsed some of the roof of Drury Lane Theatre. Bedford Lemere took the photograph from the rear of the site now occupied by India House. To his right would have been the sites of two recently demolished theatres, The Globe (1868 - 1902) and the Opera Comique (1870 - 1899). Text and image from 'Theatrephile' Volume 2 No.6 Spring 1985.

 

The Superior Miss Pellender  - Click for cast details.The Heir at Law - Click for cast details.When the Avenue Theatre, now the Playhouse, was partly destroyed by the collapse of part of Charring Cross Station in 1905, its then owner Cyril Maude, moved to the Waldorf Theatre and opened a season of productions there from January 1906 until his own Theatre could be rebuilt. Maude put on 'The Superior Miss Pellender', a revival of 'She Stoops to Conquer', 'The Heir at Law', 'The Second in Command', and 'Shore Acres' at the Waldorf.

A Programme for 'Mrs. Temple's Telegram' at the Waldorf Theatre in September 1906 - Click for cast details.Right - Programmes for Cyril Maude's 'The Superior Miss Pellender' and 'The Heir at Law' at the Waldorf Theatre in January and March 1906 - Click the covers for cast details.

Left - A Programme for 'Mrs. Temple's Telegram' at the Waldorf Theatre in September 1906 - Click for cast details.

The Waldorf Theatre had a change of name in October 1909 when it was taken over by J. A. Harrison and became the Strand Theatre, but this was only temporary as in 1911 it was changed again, this time to the Whitney Theatre when it was bought by the American Manager F. C. Whitney. However, Whitney was not successful in this venture and the name reverted back to the Strand Theatre again in 1913 when Louis Meyer took up the reigns, and this name would remain until 2005.

The Theatre suffered some bomb damage during the first world war and an image and brief details of this are shown below.

 

Bomb damage to the Strand Theatre on the 13th October, 1915 The side elevation of the Strand Theatre on Catherine Street in 2005.

Above Left - Bomb damage to the Strand Theatre on the 13th October, 1915 - From a 1950s Nostalgia Postcard. And Right - The same side elevation of the Strand Theatre on Catherine Street in 2005.

 

The rear of the card shown above left reads: 'Damage was inflicted on the Strand Theatre in London when two bombs were dropped on Aldwych by the Zeppelin L15. Another bomb from the same airship fell in front of the Lyceum Theatre. The Zeppelins were a sinister new development in aerial warfare. Their engines made 'a weird and peculiar burr' which became all too familiar. Bombing raids using aircraft followed in 1917.'

 

An early Seating Plan for the Strand Theatre, probably 1920s

Above - An early Seating Plan for the Strand Theatre, probably 1920s.

The Theatre was redecorated and partly reconstructed in 1930 and the Dress Circle rear boxes which can be seen in the Seating Plan above were removed. Below are some 1930s / 40s Programmes for the Strand Theatre.

1936 Programme for 'Aren't Men Beasts!' at the Strand Theatre staring John Mills whose picture, from the programme is also shown John Mills who died in 2005.

Above - 1936 Programme for 'Aren't Men Beasts!' at the Strand Theatre staring John Mills whose picture, from the programme, is also shown above. John Mills died in 2005.

 

Programme for the Strand Theatre 1933Programme for the Strand Theatre 1935Programme for the Strand Theatre 1949

Above - Three programmes for the Strand Theatre 1933, 1935, and 1949.

 

Renaming of the Theatre to the Novello in 2005

The Strand Theatre being refurbished and it's name changed to the Novello Theatre in July 2005 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Strand Theatre being refurbished and it's name changed to the Novello Theatre in July 2005 - Photo M.L.

A letter from, and signed, by Ivor Novello to someone who had written to him about his performance in 'Kings Rhapsody' at the Palace Theatre  - Courtesy Tony Craig.In the summer of 2005, marking the Theatre's 100th anniversary, the Delfont Mackintosh group, who had recently refurbished the Prince of Wales Theatre, began a major refurbishment of the Strand Theatre. This was completed in December 2005 when the Theatre was renamed again, this time to the Novello Theatre in recognition of Ivor Novello who had lived in a flat over the Theatre for 38 years, between 1913 and 1951. Novello wrote many of his most memorable musicals in the Theatre during this period.

Right - A note from, and signed, by Ivor Novello to someone who had written to him about his performance in 'Kings Rhapsody' at the Palace Theatre which opened on the 15th of September 1949. The note is addressed from the Aldwych in London where Ivor Novello lived in a flat above the Strand Theatre.

The note reads 'Thank you so much for your thought of me on the first night of 'Kings Rhapsody - It really was my most exciting night in the Theatre and we're all very happy - Yours Ivor Novello.' - Note kindly sent in by Tony Craig.

'Kings Rhapsody' was written by, and starred, Ivor Novello in the leading role along with Phyllis Dare. The show opened at the Palace Theatre on the 15th of September 1949 and ran for 841 performances, outlasting Novello himself, who died on the 6th of March 1951.

 

Blue Plaque Dedicated to Ivor Novello at the Novello Theatre - Courtesy Charles JenkinsA visitor to the site, Adam Harrison, writes: 'Ivor Novello’s flat was “Flat 4, The Aldwych” which was above the Strand Theatre, now the Novello Theatre, and there is now a Blue Plaque beside the door to the four flats, built one above the other, at the Novello Theatre..

Right - The Blue Plaque Dedicated to Ivor Novello at the Novello Theatre - Courtesy Charles Jenkins.

The Stage Door of the Strand Theatre in 2005 on Tavistock Street during renovations and conversion to the Novello Theatre. - Photo M.L....Duncan C. Weldon and Triumph Theatre Productions used to be based in that flat which I knew well. The bedroom faced sideways to the Duchess Theatre and by then was sadly just an office. The big Music Room was Duncan’s Office. It was the big bay above the neon for the old Strand. Flat 3 was not so big and was used by Paul Elliot and the other two flats were very small and did not go over the theatre due to the Dress and Upper Circle Bars on the corner of the site...

Left - The Stage Door of the Strand Theatre on Tavistock Street during renovations and conversion to the Novello Theatre in 2005. - Photo ML

...The top two flats went around the corner of the bay and had smashing curved rooms with views out. Not sure who is in the top three flats now, but the small first floor one just above a shop, has been opened out off the Dress Circle Bar and is now the Theatre Manager's Office.' - Adam Harrison, Frank Matcham Society.

Right - In Search Of Ruritania by David Slattery is an honest and affectionate journey into the life, work and world of the late Ivor Novello. Click to buy the book at Amazon.co.uk.On the 6th of September 2012 the Novello Theatre became the new home for the hit musical Mamma Mia when it transferred from the Prince of Wales Theatre.

For more history on the Novello Theatre you may also like to visit this page on the Delfont Mackintosh website and click the History Tab.

Right - In Search Of Ruritania by David Slattery is an honest and affectionate journey into the life, work and world of the late Ivor Novello. Click to buy the book at Amazon.co.uk.

 

The Novello Theatre on its reopening in December 2005 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Novello Theatre on its reopening in December 2005 - Photo ML

 

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