The Vaudeville Theatre, Strand, London, WC2
Above - The Vaudeville Theatre during the run of 'Great Expectations' in March 2013 - Photo M.L.
The Vaudeville Theatre, which stands on the northern side of the Strand, and a few doors up from the Adelphi Theatre, today, opened on the 23rd of February 1926 with a revue called 'R.S.V.P' by Archie de Bear. It is actually the Third Theatre on this same site since 1870, having been reconstructed three times over its long history. There is more information on the present Theatre further down on this page. There now follows details of the earlier Theatres on the site.
The first Theatre on the site opened as the Vaudeville Theatre on the 16th of April 1870 with a comedy called 'For Love Or Money' by Andrew Halliday, which was followed by 'Don Carlos or The Infante In Arms' by Conway Edwardes. The Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre architect C. J. Phipps and built by Mr. Hyde with an auditorium on four levels, Stalls and Pit, Dress Circle, Upper Circle, Gallery and Ampitheatre, with a capacity of 1,000.
Two days after the Theatre opened the Pall Mall Gazette printed a review of the new building and it's opening night production in their 18th of April 1870 edition saying: 'Upon the ground in the Strand formerly occupied by the Bentinck Club, and at an earlier date by the printing office of the defunct Glowworm newspaper, Mr. Phipps, whose experience in the matter of play- house building must be quite without precedent, has erected the Vaudeville Theatre, now open for the season under the management of Messrs. Montague, James, and Thorne, the popular actors of the Prince of Wales's and Strand Theatres.
Right - A Programme for 'London Assurance' at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1872, the play ran for 165 performances and was accompanied by 'The Very Last Days of Pompeii' and 'Warning to Bachelors.'
In size the house resembles the New Royalty, with a much loftier ceiling however, and with more convenient arrangements for the comfort of the audience. The decorations are in very good taste and well suited to the proportions of the building, objection being permitted to the deep-toned orange of the box-draperies, which disturbs the harmony of the general colouring. All modern improvements in the lighting of the stage and auditory have been made duly available. The house is very fresh from the builder's hands - too fresh, as it seemed, for the spectators in the pit soon after their admission began to exclaim angrily that they and their clothes were suffering detriment from the wetness of the paint. Peace was restored presently, however, upon the stage manager's promise to compensate the injured in this respect, and upon the discovery that the paint was unmixed with oil or varnish, and therefore comparatively harmless in its effects even upon broadcloth.
The managers maybe regarded as representatives of the entertainments to be provided on the new stage. Mr. Montague will be responsible for the acting of comedies flavoured with sentiment, while Messrs. James and Thome will bring from the Strand Theatre burlesque traditions in which breadth and vehement frolic will be important elements. Vaudeville, it seems, will be confined to the name of the theatre, and be found only on its outside.
Above - Details from a Programme for 'London Assurance' at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1872, the play ran for 165 performances and was accompanied by 'The Very Last Days of Pompeii' and 'Warning to Bachelors.'
The new comedy called " For Love or Money," written by Mr. Halliday, with which the performances commenced, should perhaps rather have been described, after the fashion of the medieval stage, as "a morality." It is a play almost without a plot. Its purpose is didactic, and it labours to set forth in a series of scenes loosely strung together how miserable is a marriage for money, how delightful a frugal union of pure affection! This is not very new teaching, and although, perhaps, unimpeachable on the score of soundness, has certainly its tiresome side... Three long acts wrought from material so undramatic severely tested the patience of the audience, and the verdict pronounced upon the new play was not wholly favourable... The Vaudeville numbers in its company some very efficient players, and what good acting could do for the comedy was certainly done for it by Mr. Montague as George Anderson, Mr. Irving as Alfred Skimmington, and Mr. Honey as Major Buncombe; but the opportunities for the actors were very few. Miss Fawsitt, who appeared as Jemima Buncombe, is a young actress of marked ability, who, if she can but restrain her excess of zeal and learn the value of repose of manner, may take sonic rank in her profession, Miss Cavendish personated Mrs. Darlington, the young widow, and Mr. Garthorne, a new actor, sustained the ungrateful part of her timid lover, Tom Buncombe.
To the comedy succeeded a burlesque on the subject of "Don Carlos," supplied to repletion with all those attractions which have been found of value in previous works of the class. Those who admire existing burlesques will probably admire "Don Carlos." Its scenery is very bright, and its costumes are very smart; it is rich in parodies of popular tunes and in fatiguing dances; it is very long, and its story is unintelligible. It finds occupation for a number of young ladies attired in doublet and hose - the hose being generally in excess of the doublet - in high-heeled satin boots, and displaying calves whose symmetry is not solely the work of nature. Mr. Thorne plays the part of a woman, and dances and sings with amazing energy. Hiss Nelly Power plays the part of a man, and otherwise rivals the feats of Mr. Thorne. Mr. Honey is comical in a most unkingly way as Philip II. of Spain. An elaborate parody of the ridiculous Islington bull fight concludes the performance. "Don Carlos" seemed to please the audience very completely.
Between the plays an opening address in verse written by Mr. Shirley Brooks was delivered by Mr. Montague. The Pall Mall Gazette, 18th of April 1870.
Not long after the Theatre opened Arthur Lloyd's future wife, Kattie King, was performing there in the Historical Burlesque 'Elizabeth or the Don, the Duck, the Drake, and the Invisible Armada' by F. C. Burnand, followed by a production of the Farce 'Chiselling' with a regular Company which included Nelly Power and the soon to be very famous actor Henry Irving. These two pieces followed a performance of 'Two Roses' on the same evening, played by many of the same Company from Thursday the 17th of November 1870. 'Two Roses' had previously already been showing at the Vaudeville for a record breaking 144 performances. The evening began at 7pm and the audience were in for a long evening with 'Chiselling' not starting until Midnight. One reviewer writing about 'Elizabeth' said: 'The songs, excellently rendered, illustrate the latest successes of the Music halls; and the part-song "Row in a galley with the ladies oh', won a well-merited encore... Miss Nelly Power obtained repeated proofs of her popularity, and the liveliness and piquancy of her performance secured abundant recognition. As Sir Walter Raleigh Miss A. Newton delivered her couplets with excellent point and judgment; and Miss Kattie King, who made her first appearance here, was a graceful and animated Sir Francis Walsingham; travested into a chief of the Police.' Irving didn't warrant a mention.
The day after the Theatre opened The ERA reviewed the new building in their 17th of April 1870 edition saying: 'This elegant little theatre has been erected upon the site occupied by Nos. 403 and 404 Strand, and the premises of the defunct Bentinck Club in the rear. It extends nearly as far as Maiden Lane towards the north and to Lumley Court towards the east.
Left - The Vaudeville Theatre in 1917 - From a Postcard.
Though small in comparison with the larger establishments in its immediate neighbourhood, it will comfortably seat 1,000 persons with a considerable amount of standing space in addition. Mr. C. J. Phipps, F.S.A., the architect who has been entrusted with this work has already, designed the Queen's, the Gaiety, and seven other Theatres, within the last few years. The model of this new addition to the Metropolitan Theatres is, however, novel in every respect. The principal entrance is in the Strand, by a spacious hall leading to the stalls, on a level with the Strand; and by a staircase, six feet wide, to the balcony and boxes. The pit is approached by a separate corridor, five feet wide, level with the Strand. The Gallery entrance is in Lumley-court, approached both from the Strand and Maiden-lane.
The plan of the auditory is strikingly original, as well as elegant, consists of a balcony, the front forming a semicircle, opening out with curves of a contrary flexure to the proscenium columns. Behind this, at a higher level, is the dress circle tier, the front of the upper circle being on the same vertical line as the division between the balcony and dress circle, Behind the upper circle is a spacious gallery. The front of the upper circle is carried round over the proscenium opening, from which springs a groined ceiling, joining the main ceiling over the auditory at its diameter line. There are on either side, between the balcony and the stage opening on the grand tier, three private boxes, divided by pillars having enriched caipitals, and surmounted by semicircular arches, each containing a figure-subject. Below these again, on the pit level, are two more private boxes on either side. Those on the left hand, facing the stage, are set apart for the Royal family, and arranged so that they may be thrown into one large box, approached from the stalls corridor, level with the Strand. There is, however, another corridor on the other side, so that the stalls are thus approached from both sides. There are six rows of arm-chairs in stalls, a commodious pit, three rows of arm-chairs in balcony, four rows of seats in dress circle, two more private boxes behind same, two rows of upper circle, and a spacious gallery.
In comparison with the smaller houses of the Metropolis, the Vaudeville has a larger seating area than the Strand, the Prince of Wales's, the Royalty, or the Charing-cross Theatres. Opening out from the first landing of the grand staircase is a handsome refreshment saloon, with cloak-rooms contiguous, for both ladies and gentlemen; above this, and occupying the frontage towards the Strand, are rooms for the management offices, wardrobe making rooms, and a spacious refreshment saloon for the gallery.
The lighting of the auditory is by one of "Strode's" sun-burners in centre of ceiling. The ventilation has been specially considered, there being extracting flues in the side walls of every tier near the ceiling. In most Theatres the part of the pit underneath the boxes is rendered most oppressive by reason of the very limited height; here, however, the ceiling over the centre of pit is carried up to a height of ten feet, and has suspended lights, with large ventilating flues over.
The stage is well adapted for every kind of performance; it is thirty feet six inches in depth from the float lights to the back wall, with a dock for stowing scenery in addition. The width between walls is forty-one feet; the stage opening twenty-two feet wide; and the height above is sufficient to take up scenery out of sight. The stage floor is fitted up with machinery of the usual elaborate description. The footlights are those which have been introduced by Mr. Phipps in several of his later Theatres, and manufactured for him by Messrs, Strode, the lights being entirely out of the sight of the audience, and burning downwards, the produce of the combustion being taken away in a large iron cylinder running parallel with the front of the stage, and carried up in a flue in the main wall. One great advantage gained by this invention is that the unpleasant vapour screen which, in the old manner, was constantly rising between the audience and the scene, is entirely removed, and the performers can now approach the footlights without the risk of getting burnt, as a piece of gauze may be placed over without ignition. If any of the glasses should break that particular burner falls down and shuts off the gas. Behind the curtain are the usual accessories of a Theatre, and numerous dressing-rooms for all classes of performers.
The coloured decorations have been executed by Mr. George Gordon. They are principally on the flat, there being no raised ornament on the ceiling, or on the box fronts, except the upper and lower mouldings. The general character is Romanesque. The ceiling is divided into compartments with white ornaments on a blue ground. The panels in the cove over proscenium are of varied design, in colours, on a gray ground. The front of the balcony tier is the most elaborate, being ornamented in rich colour on a gold ground; this front is slightly out of the perpendicular, so that the whole light from the sun-burner falling on the gold ground produces a most rich effect. The lunettes in arches over the private boxes have been painted by Mr. W. Phillips, and represent on either side subjects from the Fairy portion of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. The hangings for the boxes are of the richest hue of golden-coloured figured satin, the effect of which is enhanced by the warm crimson and gold colour with which the walls are lined.
The act-drop has been designed and painted also by Mr. Gordon, the figures in the foreground being by Alfred Thompson, Esq.
The seats in stalls and balcony are covered in a rich maroon colour, the woodwork being ebonised. They have been made by Messrs. Wadman, of Bath, from the architect's registered design.
The general builder's work has-been done by Mr. Macintosh, and the whole of the works in every department have been executed from the designs and under the personal direction of Mr. C. J. Phipps, F.S.A., of 26, Mecklenburgh-square. - The ERA 17th of April 1870.
A month after the Vaudeville Theatre opened The Graphic printed a review of the building with a sketch of the auditorium in their 14th of May 1870 edition saying: 'We lately mentioned the opening of this theatre, and we now give a drawing of the interior, with such further particulars as may interest our readers. We have made great strides of late in theatrical architecture, as those who can remember the old green-latticed Adelphi - and they need not be very old theatre-goers to do that - well know. Something is due to the managers, something to the better taste of the public, and something to Mr. Phipps, to whom we owe our three most comfortable and elegant theatres, the Queen's, the Gaiety, and now the Vaudeville. He has shown us that a theatre may be well lighted, well ventilated, easy of access, and a place of comfort to its frequenters, without necessarily being any the worse as a stage, and he has, moreover, managed to free himself from the trammels of the old decorator's rule which held gilt mouldings on a coloured ground to be the only embellishment for a dramatic temple.
As we have before stated, there are various novelties in the arrangement of the new house, as regards what we now call the auditorium. This consists of a balcony,behind which , but on a higher level, is the dress circle; above the dress circle is an upper circle, and behind this again the gallery, the balcony projecting beyond the other tiers. The front of the upper circle is continued over the proscenium, from which springs the groined ceiling, and between the balcony and the stage are the private boxes, there being two more on each side below these and on a level with the stalls.
Right - The New Vaudeville Theatre auditorium and stage - From The Graphic of May 14th 1870.
The sitting accommodation is for 1,000, there being six rows of arm-chairs in the stalls, three rows in the balcony, and four rows of seats in the dress circle - behind which are two more private boxes - and two rows seats in the upper circle.
The decorations by Mr. Gordon are painted on the flat, and are Romanesque in character, the front of the balcony tier differing from the others in being slightly inclined, and being decorated in rich colours on a gold ground, the ceiling is in compartments of blue and white, and the alcove above the proscenium is ornamented with colours on a grey ground; above the upper private boxes are semi-circular arches containing paintings by Mr. W. Phipps, representing subjects from the Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Tempest. The hangings of the boxes are of golden coloured satin, the interiors being lined with crimson and gold; the stall and balcony seats are maroon and ebony.
The theatre is lighted by a sun-burner in the centre of the ceiling and suspended lights in the pit, and the footlights are of the now approved fashion, to which we believe we are also indebted to Mr. Phipps, being out of site of the audience and burning downwards. The stage, which is fitted with all the usual machinery, measures 30ft 6in. in depth and 22ft in width, the entire width from wall to wall being 41ft, and there being plenty of room above.
On the first landing of the great staircase are a refreshment saloon, and ladies and gentlemen's cloak rooms, and on the floor above, another refreshment room for the gallery.
We understand that the design, both architectural and ornamental, even to the pattern of the chairs, is entirely Mr. Phipps's own, and the whole has been executed under his personal direction.' Text and image of auditorium from The Graphic of May 14th 1870.
The Second Vaudeville Theatre, Strand, London
The Vaudeville Theatre was reconstructed in 1891 and the newly built Theatre opened on the 13th of January that year with a one act play called 'The Note Of Hand' by Herbert Keith, followed by a comedy called 'Woodbarrow Farm' by Jerome K. Jerome.
This new Vaudeville Theatre was also designed by C. J. Phipps and the changed auditorium was on four levels, Stalls and Pit, Circle, Upper Circle, and Galler, with a capacity of 740. The stage was 21' 8" Wide by 22' 8" Deep. The frontage of the Theatre was completely replaced in this new construction, removing what had previously been the frontage of two houses on the Strand which still survived in the original Vaudeville Theatre.
Right - A Postcard for the Vaudeville Theatre sent in 1908.
The ERA reviewed this newly constructed Theatre too, in their 10th of January edition, reprinted in 'The Theatres Of London' by Mander and Mitchenson, which said:
'The frontage, which was not rebuilt when the theatre was constructed in 1870, comprised Nos. 403 and 404, Strand. These two houses have now been pulled down, and a handsome facade in Portland stone erected; this is of four storeys in height.
The ground storey has a centre archway leading into the vestibule, with two side doorways respectively leading to the pit, and also the vestibule. The doorways to the vestibule are recessed, so as to leave a porch, 6 foot wide, closed to the thoroughfare by the patent Bostock iron gates, which neither swing, nor fold, but slide away to nothing behind the piers, causing no obstruction. The vestibule is in the same position as formerly, but now forms a handsome entrance hall, some 20 feet square. The pit entrance is at the eastern side, in the position formerly occupied by a flower shop.
On the first storey a loggia, 6 foot wide, is formed under an arcade of five arches. Opening on to this, through five French casement windows, is the grand foyer or saloon, 26 feet by 20 feet, with elaborate ceiling, fireplace and fittings. Here will be found a buffet for refreshments, while the loggia will form a pleasant lounge for smoking in the summer. The walls of the staircase are decorated with an elaborately designed Japanese leather paper in gold and red. The vestibule and foyer have similar hangings on the walls, while the floors are of marble, and the ceiling of ornamental plaster of geometric design.
Left - The Stage Door and rear elevation of the Vaudeville Theatre, on Maiden Lane, in October 2006. The alleyway to the left of the picture leads down to the Strand, and about half way down is the Scene Dock Entrance to the stage of the Theatre - Photo M.L.
The auditorium, as regards its seating capacity, is unaltered, but the private boxes and side corridors on the stalls level have been removed. New stall seats covered in peacock-blue plush have been erected and placed sufficiently far apart to admit of easy passing between the rows. A more striking change in the auditorium, which has entirely changed the character of the theatre, has been the removal of small rooms on either side of the amphitheatre, and the cove over the proscenium. A new ceiling with groins springing from the outer walls, gives a wonderful idea of enlarged space, and the space above the proscenium opening has been crowned by a pediment. The scheme of colour adopted in the auditorium has been French white and grey with gold, the seating peacock blue, the carpets and hangings to the private boxes of rose colour, and the walls of a greenish grey - The favourite little theatre thus becomes to all intents a new one, replete with every convenience.'
Above - The Vaudeville Theatre during the run of 'Stomp' in October 2006
The Vaudeville Theatre was reconstructed again in 1926 and this third incarnation is the one that is still standing today. The Theatre reopened on the 23rd of February 1926 with a revue called 'R.S.V.P' by Archie de Bear.
Right - A Programme for 'Lover's Leap' at the Vaudeville Theatre in the 1930s, and a Programme for 'Charlo's Char-A-Bang!' at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1935, both during the management of the Gattis.
This reconstruction led to the auditorium being completely gutted and rebuilt by Bovis Ltd., for the designer Robert Atkinson. The roof of the Theatre was also raised at this time and part of the basement lowered. Also the proscenium was enlarged and the stage completely rebuilt. Virtually a new Theatre in essence. The new stage dimensions were 21' 10" Wide by 29' Deep.
The new Vaudeville Theatre's auditorium was built on three levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, and Upper Circle and had a capacity on opening of 650, but this has since been enlarged to 690.
The facade of this new Theatre however, was retained from the second reconstruction of the Theatre which was originally completed in 1891.
Left - A Programme for 'Goodness, How Sad!' at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1939.
The Vaudeville Theatre has been home to a great many successful productions over its long history, and continues to be so to this day. The stage of the Theatre is 9m deep with a proscenium opening of 7.26m and the Theatre has an orchestra pit capable of housing 15 to 20 musicians.
The Vaudeville Theatre is Grade II Listed and is currently run by Nimax Theatres whose own website can be found here.
Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for the present Vaudeville Theatre
Above - The Vaudeville Theatre, looking up the Strand, during the run of 'Stomp' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.
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