The Piccadilly Theatre, Denman Street, London, W.1
Above - The Piccadilly Theatre during the run of 'Jersey Boys' in October 2014 - Photo M.L.
The Piccadilly Theatre opened on the 27th of April 1928 with a musical play called 'Blue Eyes' starring Evelyn Laye, and written by Jerome Kern. The Theatre was designed by the Architects Bertie Crewe and Edward A. Stone, and was built by Griggs and Sons on land which was previously home to some derelict stables.
Right - The Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
The Piccadilly Theatre's opening was followed by a flurry of Theatre Building in London's West End. 1930 saw the opening of the Prince Edward Theatre on April the 3rd, then the Cambridge Theatre on the 4th of September, then the Phoenix on the 24th of September, and the Whitehall Theatre on the 29th of September. Then came the rebuilt Adelphi Theatre on 3rd of December, and finally the Leicester Square Theatre which opened on December the 19th.
Left - The Cast of 'Blue Eyes' - From the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
The Theatre was built for the Piccadilly Theatre Company and it's auditorium was decorated by Marc-Henri & Laverdet on three levels, Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circles, now called Stalls, Royal, and Grand Circles, with a capacity on opening of 1,395, although today the capacity is a more modest 1,232. The stage is large enough for musicals at 29' 10" Wide by 35' Deep.
Details of the newly opened Piccadilly Theatre
From the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre on the 27th of April 1928
A few months ago an interesting article appeared in the Evening News dealing with the acquisition of the site on which the Piccadilly Theatre has now been erected. It is only known to those closely connected with the building of a theatre in the West End of London the enormous amount of difficulties which have to be overcome before the final completion is reached. Details of the various negotiations would be interesting reading, but space does not allow me to go into these facts. Suffice it to say that after jumping many hurdles those directly connected with the erection of this theatre have achieved their purpose.
It may be of interest to know that the building of the theatre involved the labour of 200 men per day for twelve months, the auditorium holds 1,400 people, exclusive of standing, there are over 550 tons of cement and 600 tons of steel in the construction, and that the number of bricks employed in the building if placed end to end in one straight line would reach from London to Paris. As against these dramatic details the sober facts are that the Piccadilly Theatre, while laying no special claims to Gargantuan proportions; is one of the first in London for luxurious comfort and practical utility as a theatre, both from the point of view of the audience and the artist.
Following the approved scheme of decoration, the directors selected the finest quality of Saxony pile carpet in a special shade of green from Messrs. James Shoolbred for the whole of the stalls and circles, the same firm also providing a specially designed chair covered in a gold ground velour, with raised pattern in shades of green, finished with a shaped back and arms in natural finish English walnut. The whole of the doors, bar counters and fittings throughout the entire theatre are in beautifully figured walnut wood. Mouldings have been avoided throughout; the effect of panels being obtained by inlaid wood.
Right - The auditorium of the Piccadilly Theatre - From the Theatre's opening Souvenir Programme on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
The entire decoration of the auditorium has been carried out by Marc-Henri, the famous French artist, who has decorated many theatres on the Continent, including the Plaza, the Carlton, and the latest cinema theatre, the Paramount, in Paris.
Special provision has been made at all levels for long lengths of bar counter so that patrons may obtain quick service between the acts. The same applies to cloak rooms and lavatories at all levels. The total length of bar counters amounts to nearly 100 feet. The walls of the Ladies' Saloons are fitted with mirrors and dressing tables round the whole area, and it is quite safe to say that in no other theatre in London are these apartments so well and completely equipped, the fittings of which alone cost several thousand pounds.
Entrances and exits have been arranged at all four corners of the auditorium, and at the high and low levels of the circle on both sides, and the staircases and corridors from these are so spacious that it will be possible to entirely clear the house in Two Minutes in case of emergency.
Behind the stage there are thirty luxurious dressing rooms, all supplied with hot and cold water, and the principal artists have special reception rooms adjoining, an electric passenger lift has been installed for easy access to the higher levels of the dressing rooms, while no effort has been spared to give the necessary convenience and safety to artists.
The site of the Piccadilly Theatre originally was covered with derelict stables and out-of-date buildings, but the demolishing of these was only accomplished under very great difficulties owing to the necessity of protection being given to the surrounding buildings on the site.
The excavation particularly was an extremely difficult task for the contractors, and it speaks well for the ability of Messrs. Griggs & Son that they pulled down these buildings and accomplished the feat of underpinning and excavating to a depth of over 20 feet below the pavement line, without any serious accident.
Left - A 1970s Seating Plan for the Piccadilly Theatre.
The whole of the designing and constructional work of this theatre has been carried out, from first to last, under the direct supervision of Mr. Edward A. Stone (shown right) and Mr. Bertie Crewe, whose names are eminent in the realm of architecture.
The new Piccadilly Theatre, apart from many other means of transport, will be served by the largest tube station in the world, the new Piccadilly Tube Station which, as against 26,000,000 passengers in 1927, will in future, with a battery of 15 passimeter booths, be able to serve 50,000,000 a year. The completed station, over the central dome of which Eros will be replaced, will have 7 subway entrances, 9 escalators and, 15 feet beneath the roadway, the booking hall will have a circular area of over 15,000 square feet, encompassed by a broad subway from which short staircases will connect with seven principal parts of the Circus. Fifty-seven stone stanchions will support the roof of the booking hall, which will have a special scheme of concealed lighting, the surrounding subway will be lined with brilliantly illuminated showcases in which well-known London stores will display their wares, and there will be a special corridor of public phone-call rooms. The work on this station was begun in February, 1925, and the approximate total cost of it will be £430,000.
Above - Serving the new Piccadilly Theatre will be the largest Tube Station in the World - From the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
The Electrical Equipment of The New Piccadilly Theatre
From the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Piccadilly Theatre on the 27th of April 1928
I have been asked to say something about the Lighting Equipment, Ventilation and various other Technical Installations at the Piccadilly Theatre. I do not believe in saying that the theatre contains 22 miles of wire and 17,000 lamps, which is the usual thing one reads in a Brochure, and that the ventilation produces 5 million cubic feet of air per hour.
Right - An advertisement for the Electrical Installation at the Piccadilly Theatre by Berkeley Electrical Engineering Co., Ltd - From the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Theatre on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
A system of lighting has been installed in the Piccadilly Theatre which it is hoped will satisfy the public, and in this respect attention is called to the very novel idea of illumination of Staircases by means of small panels, as against the usual wall or bracket fitting. In the Foyers we have a system of direct and indirect lighting served by two complete services, so that in the event of the breakdown of the supply from one source, the whole of this important part of the theatre, including the Staircases and Exits, will still remain illuminated to such an extent as to allow the public clear passage. In the Auditorium every endeavour has been made to produce adequate illumination with the maximum comfort to the patron. As few fittings as possible have been used in the Auditorium, and here again a system of direct and indirect lighting produces the illumination necessary. In the centre of the theatre, we have a large Crystal Lustre, which actually weighs four tons, with all its necessary raising and lowering gear. The construction of the main platform supporting this is made of steel. Its size of 14 ft. by 8 ft. is hardly appreciated from the Stalls level, and the fact that it contains 200 lamps. This is in my opinion, the "crystal spot" of the theatre. The system of lighting around the Dome is intended to produce a soft but effective illumination to the Auditorium in general, and the use of laylights for indirect lighting over the Balcony and Dress Circle produces that soft velvet effect which is considered the art of perfect illumination.
On the Stage we have a very up-to-date system of lighting, comprising, as it does, all the latest devices for producing lighting effects. The Footlights are of entirely new design and are so placed as to produce a maximum of light evenly distributed all over the stage. They are wired in four distinct colours, and are capable of producing eight different combinations of colour by means of blending. The Stage Battens comprise a new unit used for the first time in this theatre, and are wired on the same principle as the Footlights. By an elaborate system of control installed on a platform on the Prompt side and above the Stage, almost any combination of colour used in stage lighting can be produced. Cloud and water effects are as easy to produce as ordinary lighting, and in addition brilliant sunlight for a day-time scene representing a spring garden or a summer effect can equally well be produced. This is a point very often overlooked by Lighting Engineers, and special attention has been paid to this particular item.
Left - A Programme for 'Living Dangerously' at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1934.
From the front of the theatre, and projected above the Balcony, two new Spotlights, the first of their kind to be used in Europe, have been installed. These lamps have been brought over specially from America, where they have caused a sensation, and with this Effect Lamp it is possible to produce any combination of colour flood or spot instantaneously, the operator having complete control at all times without having to remove his hands from the lamp to get any new colour he requires. This lamp is a considerable advance on anything produced heretofore for this class of work, and I look forward to great results from this particular part of the scheme.
Right - A Programme for 'Counsellor At Law' at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1934.
The Stage Lighting, when working at full load, will require about 200 KW, and no less than 3000 lamps of various sizes and types will be in use on this stage when a brilliant sunlight effect is produced.
The Ventilation of this theatre is dealt with in a new way, the air being admitted from the Roof and extracted at the Floor level, in accordance with the very latest methods of ventilation. With this system it is hoped to maintain atmospheric conditions within the theatre of a character very much in advance of the general conditions maintained in a London theatre.
A very adequate and up-to-date system of Stage Equipment for the operation of scenery has been installed, by means of which almost any change of scene can be made in two minutes, it being possible by means of this equipment for one man, without any special effort, to pull a large cloth weighing half a ton out of the way, whereas with the ordinary equipment four men would be required to remove this amount of weight, and then only under very great strain.
The theatre is equipped with a complete Projection Booth, having the very latest type of Projectors, Screen, etc., and the sighting of this has been so arranged that the full picture can be seen from all parts of the theatre.
The above (edited) details on the Piccadilly Theatre are from the Souvenir Programme produced for the opening of the Theatre on the 27th of April 1928 - Courtesy Adam Harrison.
The first production at the Piccadilly Theatre, a musical play called 'Blue Eyes' with Evelyn Laye, written by Jerome Kern, ran from April the 27th 1928 until August of the same year before transferring to Daly's Theatre, (now the View Cinema in the Warner Village, Leicester Square.) After this though Warner took over the Piccadilly and began using it as a cinema to show the new craze of the time, 'Talkies,' using their Vitaphone system. Indeed, it was at the Piccadilly that the very first Talkie was shown in Britain, 'The Singing Fool' staring Al Jolson.
Right - A Programme for 'The Corn Is Green' at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1938.
However, the Theatre was back in live theatre use again in November 1929 with a production of 'The Student Prince', and then in January 1931 it had its first success with 'Folly To Be Wise' which ran for 257 performances. Then came Robert Donat and Ernest Thesiger in September 1933 with 'A Sleeping Clergyman' and 'Counsellor at Law' (shown above) in April 1934, 'Queer Cargo' in August, and 'Living Dangerously' (shown above) in November of the same year.
Left - In February 1937 The Windmill Theatre Revudeville programmes were carrying this add for the Revudeville Pot-Pourri at the Piccadilly Theatre, continuous Two Hour Review, a Vivian Van Damm Production. - Courtesy Maurice Poole.
The Theatre began to lose business after this and the Windmill Theatre company took over for a while, giving them more room for their activities, but in late 1937 Frith Shephard opened his new entertainment at the Piccadilly called 'Choose Your Time' which was a mixture of News Reels, music with the 'Swingphonic Orchestra,' comedy in the form of a short play called 'Talk Of The Devil' with a young John Mills, and Yvonne Arnaud, and amazingly, a Donald Duck film.
The Theatre was closed at the outbreak of the War in 1939 but in July 1941 it reopened with a production of Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit'. Various productions were then put on including John Gielgud in 'Macbeth' in 1942, and two musical comedies in 1943; Emile Littler's 'Sunny River' (see programme right), and 'Panama Hattie'.
Right - A Programme for Emile Littler's 'Sunny River' at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
The Theatre was later damaged by flying bombs and was closed until it reopened under the management of The Piccadilly Theatre Ltd., with a production of Agatha Christie's 'Appointment With Death' in 1945. A succession of successes and failures followed for the next decade or so including one very notable flop in May 1960; 'Bachelor Flat' which only ran for 4 performances.
In December 1960 Donald Albery fought off Bernard Delfont for the purchase of the Theatre and before long he had redecorated the Theatre and made improvements backstage, whilst Ian Albery became general Manager.
The Piccadilly Theatre has had something of a checkered history over the ensuing years, sometimes successful, but often host to some rather less fortunate productions. Recently however, the Theatre has been more successful. In 2005 the Theatre was home to a revival of the hit musical 'Guys And Dolls' which opened on the 1st of June that year and ran for two years until the equally successful production of the stage musical 'Grease' opened at the Theatre in July 2007. 'Ghost' the musical also ran very successfully in 2011 / 2012. The Theatre then staged a production the Spice Girls musical 'Viva for Ever!' and a revival of 'Dirty Dancing'. The Theatre became the new home for 'Jersey Boys' in March 2014 when it transferred from the Prince Edward Theatre.
The Piccadilly Theatre is currently run by the Ambassador Theatre Group whose own website for the Theatre can be found here.
Above - The Piccadilly Theatre during the run of 'Guys And Dolls' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.
Above - The Piccadilly Theatre during the run of 'Grease' in September 2008 - Photo M.L.
Above - The Piccadilly Theatre during the run of 'Ghost The Musical' in August 2011 - Photo M.L.
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