Home Page
The Music Hall and Theatre History Website

 

Home - Index - Forum - Contact

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, London

Formerly - The Wimbledon Theatre, Corner of Merton Road and Russell Road

See also in this area - The King's Palace Theatre - The Regal Theatre

The Wimbledon Theatre - From a postcard posted in 1911

Above - The Wimbledon Theatre - From a postcard posted in 1911

 

A Poster for 'Bo-Peep' at the Wimbledon Theatre on Boxing Day, December the 26th 1925 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.The New Wimbledon Theatre originally opened as the Wimbledon Theatre on Boxing Day, Saturday the 26th of December 1910 with a production of the Pantomime 'Jack and Jill or the Hill, the Well, and the Crown.' This was the same year that the London Palladium, the Kingston Empire, and the Finsbury Park Empire also all opened.

The Theatre was built next door to the King's Palace Theatre which was an early Cinema that had opened two months earlier. The Wimbledon Theatre itself was designed by Cecil Masey and Roy Young, and according to the Theatres Trust, possibly from an earlier design by Frank H. Jones in 1908. The Theatre was built on the site of a former large house and its grounds for J. B. Mulholland, who also ran the Metropole Theatre in Camberwell, and the King's Theatre in Hammersmith. On its opening the Wimbledon Theatre had a very large capacity of around 3,000 but this has since been reduced over the years to its current capacity of 1,670.

Right - A Poster for 'Bo-Peep' at the Wimbledon Theatre on Boxing Day, December the 26th 1925 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen.

The Wimbledon Theatre also had Turkish Baths constructed within its basement area and parts of this still remain today and can be seen in the former wine bar called Bar Sia which closed in 2012. There is much information on the Turkish Baths at Malcolme Shifrin's website here.

On the day the Wimbledon Theatre opened The ERA published a review of the building in their 26th December 1910 edition, (reprinted in Mander & Mitchenson's 'Theatres of London') which read:

"The exterior is very simply constructed in a Georgian renaissance style, particularly suitable for a building of its size. The main feature is the tower at the corner, which is surmounted by a dome, above which is a balcony with columns and entablature, which in turn support a crystal ball with a winged figure above. The height of this figure is exactly 100 feet above the pavement. At night the crystal ball will be powerfully illuminated by the mercury vapour process, which throws out violet rays, and will be a beacon light for many miles round. It practically commands ten miles of railways. The figure is also illuminated in a unique and effective manner.

 

The Wimbledon Theatre - Detail from a postcard posted in 1911

Above - The Wimbledon Theatre - Detail from a postcard posted in 1911

The main entrance is beneath the tower at the corner of Merton Road [now Broadway] and Russell Road and leads through a spacious entrance hall and lounge to the circle and stalls. One is immediately struck by a notable departure from the orthodox line of theatre construction in the fan-shape of the building. The proscenium opening forms, so to speak, the handle end of the fan, and the building widens out from the proscenium wall, the width at the back of the pit being nearly double that at the front of the stalls. The result is an immense gain in holding capacity.

 

A Programme for 'When Knights Were Bold' at the Wimbledon Theatre on the 5th November 1923 A Programme for Zena Dare in 'The Last of Mrs. Cheyney' at the Wimbledon Theatre on the 23rd of August 1926.

Above Left - A Programme for 'When Knights Were Bold' at the Wimbledon Theatre on the 5th November 1923
Above Right - A Programme for Zena Dare in 'The Last of Mrs. Cheyney' at the Wimbledon Theatre on the 23rd August 1926.

The decorations of the auditorium are in the Georgian and Italian renaissance styles. The decorations are in cream and white, brown, rose-pink, and blue and gold. The main ceiling is semi-circular, slightly coved, and divided up by heavy beams intersecting painted panels, these beams converging to a semicircular opening, over which is the sliding roof. The paintings between are very beautiful, and are the work of Signor Buccini.

 

The recently refurbished auditorium of the New Wimbledon Theatre - Courtesy the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Above - The recently refurbished auditorium of the New Wimbledon Theatre - Courtesy the New Wimbledon Theatre.

A 1970s Seating Plan for the Wimbledon Theatre

Above - A 1970s Seating Plan for the Wimbledon Theatre

There are no boxes on the ground floor. There are ten boxes in all-miniature drawing-rooms. The ground floor is composed of orchestra stalls pit, all, handsomely upholstered, and the slope is so effective that everyone has an uninterrupted view of the stage. Over this again is the amphitheatre and gallery tier. The fronts of the boxes and of the tiers are of pierced and hammered brass with bronze enrichments, which not only hold, but reflect the lights. The draperies and carpets all match in shades of old rose and gold, the seats being in crocodile skin of a darker colour, the whole blending with a most pleasing effect."

Above Text in quotes from The ERA of 26th December 1910.

 

A Poster for the pantomime 'Cinderella' at the Wimbledon Theatre for the Xmas Season beginning on the 26th of December 1924. The Theatre was designed to be run in conjunction with the King's Theatre in Hammersmith, as a Touring House with Pantomimes produced annually at Christmas. However, by the 1930s it was home to Wilson Barrett and Jevan Brandon Thomas's repertory Company.

The building was damaged during the Second World War and the Statue and part of the Globe it stood on were lost, but the Theatre continued in business until, like so many other Theatres around the Country, the Theatre was threatened with closure in the 1960s. Thankfully, due to serious opposition to its closure by local campaigners, the local Council bought the building from the Mulholland family, who had originally had the Theatre built, and the Theatre was refurbished and redecorated, and then reopened on the 8th of November 1968 under the new management of the Merton Civic Theatre Trust.

Right - A Poster for the pantomime 'Cinderella' at the Wimbledon Theatre for the Xmas Season beginning on the 26th of December 1924.

In 1960 the Wimbledon Theatre was host to the World Premier of a new musical by Lionel Bart which would go on to become one of Britain's best loved musicals of all time. The show was called 'Oliver' and was based on Charles Dicken's 'Oliver Twist.'

Oliver opened at the Wimbledon Theatre on the 10th of June 1960 for a two week run before transferring to the West End's New Theatre, now the Noel Coward Theatre, where it opened on June the 30th and went on to run for a staggering 2,618 performances. In the original cast were Ron Moody, Georgia Brown, Keith Hamshere, and the then mostly unknown Barry Humphries, who would later go on to find fame as Dame Edna Everage.

In 1991 the Theatre's interior was altered when the Gallery was re-tiered, the external shop fronts were altered, and the Statue over the Dome, which had been lost during the war, was reinstated. The following year the interior was redecorated as well.

 

A Programme for the World Premier of 'Oliver' at the Wimbledon Theatre in June 1960 - Click to see the entire programme.The Wimbledon Theatre also now includes a small 80 seat Studio Theatre, which was built in 1994 in a space which had originally been an Edwardian ballroom and was later used as a Dance School.

Furthur major improvements were carried out to the main Theatre in 1998 when the Gallery re-tiering of 1991 was improved to correct the poor site-lines that had ensued from this earlier reconstruction. Also at this time the Dressing Room block was completely rebuilt, the stage was improved, and a new Orchestra Lift was installed.

Left - A Programme for the World Premier of 'Oliver' at the Wimbledon Theatre in June 1960 - Click to see the entire programme.

A programme for Marlene Dietrich's final London performances at the Wimbledon Theatre in February 1975.The Stage of the Wimbledon Theatre currently has a depth of 40 foot, a Proscenium width of 34 foot and a Grid Height of 52 foot. (12.19m by 10.36m by 15.55m.)

The Wimbledon Theatre is noted for hosting the final London Appearances of Marlene Dietrich from February the 3rd to the 15th, 1975, with musical arrangements by Burt Bacharach and lighting by the then prolific lighting designer Joe Davis. Following this engagement Dietrich broke her leg later on in the tour whilst performing in Sydney, Australia on the 9th of September the same year, which put an end to her touring career.

Right - A programme for Marlene Dietrich's final London performances at the Wimbledon Theatre in February 1975.

 

A programme for the Wimbledon Theatre's 1973 Marlene Dietrich performances.A photograph of Marlene Dietrich performing which was used in both programmes for her 1973 and 1975 performances at the Wimbledon Theatre.Marlene Dietrich had also previously performed at the Wimbledon Theatre for the week of the 11th to the 16th of June 1973.

Left - A programme for the Wimbledon Theatre's 1973 Marlene Dietrich performances.

Right - A photograph of Marlene Dietrich performing which was used in both programmes for her 1973 and 1975 performances at the Wimbledon Theatre.

The Wimbledon Theatre is a Grade II Listed Building and is still going strong over a hundred years since it first opened. The Theatre is currently managed by the Ambassadors Group (ATG).

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

See also in this area - The King's Palace Theatre, The Regal Theatre.

 

Living Opposite The Wimbledon Theatre During The War
By Norma Oakley February 2013

The Wimbledon Theatre - From a postcard sent in 1929

Above - The Wimbledon Theatre - From a postcard sent in 1929

I lived opposite to the main entrance of Wimbledon Theatre during the Second World War. My mother managed a general store called Spice’s Stores and we had a flat over the shop behind huge advertisement hoardings. The Theatre was quite an important part of my childhood between the ages of 7 and 11.

It was very exciting to be near the Theatre and from time to time we would see famous people going to the stage door. Old Mother Riley, Arthur Lucan, once came into the shop to buy candles – for melting make-up.

I never saw the Theatre with the Globe on top – I was told as a child it had been removed because of the War.

A Google StreetView Image of the Russell Road Elevation of the Wimbledon Theatre - Click to Interact.I went to many shows there – even after we had moved away. I never went through the Main Entrance, but always to the Gallery Entrance which was just down Russell Road at the side of the Theatre. We would queue up and then run up what seemed like hundreds of stairs to buy our tickets at the door – first come, first served - with the front seats!

Right - A Google StreetView Image of the Russell Road Elevation of the Wimbledon Theatre - Click to Interact.

I saw Dorothy Ward as Principal Boy in Pantomime and Richard Tauber in two shows, one of which was Land of Smiles. I saw Eurydice by Jean Anouilh with Dirk Bogarde and Stephen Murray and Mai Zetterling. I must have been quite young because I did not really understand it!

On another memorable occasion I saw a National Ballet Company perform Swan Lake. I had never seen ballet before and I was mesmerised by what I still consider to be the perfect combination of music and dance. From beginning to end I was lost in its magic.

I think I went to most Pantomimes while we lived there. That may not have been many because sometimes during the War, when the bombing was at its worst, cinemas and theatres were closed.

A Programme for the World Premier of 'Oliver' at the Wimbledon Theatre in June 1960 - Click to see the entire programme.Before coming to Wimbledon I had never been in a Theatre before. The excitement of that first time, listening to and watching the orchestra in front of the stage, the lights going down and then the curtain rising to a different world has never left me. It has never been matched in subsequent West End visits!

I even had the fun of dressing up in discarded chorus dresses, given to a friend’s mother who worked at the Theatre.

It has been a joy to see pictures of the refurbished interior of the Theatre. It was quite shabby when I knew it. It looks as if it has now regained some of the glories of when it was first opened.

Left - A Programme for the World Premier of 'Oliver' at the Wimbledon Theatre in June 1960 - Click to see the entire programme.

My greatest regret is that I did not go when Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” was premiered there before going to the West End. I was very sniffy about Dickens being made into a musical. What an idiot!

The Above Article on 'Living Opposite the Wimbledon Theatre During the War' was written for, and kindly sent in for inclusion on, this site by Norma Oakley in February 2013.