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The Opera Comique, East Strand, London


Programme for the Opera Comique - Circa 1885 - Click for detailsSee Theatreland MapsThis theatre stood in the East Strand, near the old Globe. The two playhouses were back to back, and were known as the Rickety Twins. It was badly built and was probably erected in the hope of compensation when the expected improvements led to the replanning and rebuilding of the district around. It had as entrance long narrow tunnels from three thoroughfares, and was frequently referred to as Theatre Royal, Tunnels. It was so draughty that the audience could not sit in comfort, and many of them caught cold.

Right - Programme for the Opera Comique - Circa 1885 - Click for details.

In case of fire its stairs would have occasioned much loss of life, but, like its companion the Globe, it was never burned down, for which playgoers of the time had much reason to be grateful. Its very name was a mistake, for the public did not take to a foreign title. It opened in 1871, with a musical play, based on Moliere and called by the clumsy title of 'The Doctor in Spite of Himself', with music by D'Oyly Carte, which was a failure. Then the company of the Comedie-Francaise, driven from Paris by the Franco-Prussian war, played there, their first appearance outside France in the whole of their history. In 1873 Ristori appeared there, and then followed the famous Gilbert and Sullivan partnership, which had started at the Royalty with 'Trial by Jury'. In Nov. 1877 appeared The Sorcerer, followed by H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and Patience, which was later transferred to D'Oyly Carte's new theatre, the Savoy. With this the short heyday of the theatre closed, and the last production was seen there in 1899.

Text from The Oxford Companion To The Theatre, 1st Edition - 1951

Programme for 'Joan Of Arc' at the Opera Comique in 1891 - Courtesy Ken Claydon - Click to see entire Programme.The principal front of the "Opera Comique" is in the Strand, and observant passengers who know the narrowness of the area between the Strand and Holywell Street will find it difficult to imagine how, even in London, where now-a-days theatres are edged in among houses anyhow, an " Opera Comique" can have been formed there. This frontage, however, is, in truth, nothing but the entrance to a passage which leads across Holywell Street to a theatre that has been built between that and Wych Street. The building, which is, very small, backs on the "Globe," and is to a considerable 'extent underground, as will be understood when we mention that a long flight of stairs in Wych Street leads down to the stage level, and that the pit, of course, is lower than that again. The theatre was, opened in 1870, and has seen several changes of lessees. It is nicely decorated, and commodiously arranged. Its greatest prosperity has been in the production of those comic operas with which the names of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan are popularly associated, notably "H. M. S. Pinafore," and "The Pirates of Penzance."

Text from 'Old And New London' 1897

Left - Programme for 'Joan Of Arc' at the Opera Comique in 1891 - Courtesy Ken Claydon - Click to see entire Programme.

Whych Street 1901 - Click to enlargeSee Theatreland MapsThis theatre was 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. Four theatres were demolished during the early stages of the work. 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.


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