The Novello Theatre is situated in the Strand, near the Aldwych adjacent to London’s Covent Garden.
The Novello theatre was designed by W.G.R. Sprague who designed no less than 33 theatres during his 40 year career. The construction consisted of the Waldorf hotel flanked by two theatres, the Aldwych and the Novello. Orginally called the Waldorf Theatre. Sprague was also the architect for the Novello’s ‘twin’, the Aldwych Theatre, at the other end of the block. He gave the Novello a classic facade made of Portland stone, leading to a Louis XIV style interior.
The Novello opened in 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre. It was the last three-tier theatre to be built in London and the second to be constructed without a raked stage.
The first owners of the Waldorf Theatre were the Shubert brothers who already owned or managed some 20 theatres in America. The theatre opened with an 8-week season of opera and drama.
It was renamed as the Strand theatre in 1913. In 1915 the entrance to the theatre pit was hit during a heavy Zeppelin raid on the Strand during a performance of The Scarlet Pimpernel. In true theatrical tradition, the show went on. Throughout the 1920s the Strand became home to a wealth of acting talent, including Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike and Peggy Ashcroft. During the 1930’s the theatre staged a number of traditional farces.
The theatre was bombed during the Blitz in 1940. However, the show went on once again, lunchtime performances of Shakespeare being given with the artists picking their way to the stage over the rubble. Arsenic and Old Lace, a new comedy, broke records for the longest run with 1337 performances from December 1942 to March 1946. On 3 June 1943 the Royal Family attended the play, the first time the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been allowed to go to an evening performance in the West End.
During the 1950’s following on from the musical ‘Small is Beautiful’ directed by Mantovani and starring Leslie Henson, Betty Paul, Keith Michell and Denis Quilley, the Strand theatre became renowned for comedies and farces. Many famous actors graced the stage during this era including Peggy Mount, Alastair Sim, Jack Hedley and George Cole.
In 1960 Ionesco’s Rhinoceros was staged and designed by Orson Welles and starred Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Michael Gough and Peter Sallis.
Stephen Sondheim’s third Broadway show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the first for which he wrote both music and lyrics, received its UK premiere at the Strand in October 1963. Frankie Howerd was the saucy slave Pseudolus and the cast also included Jon Pertwee.
In the 1970’s the comedy play No Sex Please – We’re British became the theatre’s most successful show to date. It finally closed in 1982 after a record 6,671 performances. Stars who had appeared in it included Michael Crawford, David Jason and Andrew Sachs.
Barry Humphries, as Dame Edna Everage, set new box office records in 1987 with over 200 sold-out performances of Back with a Vengeance!
The musical Buddy!, the story of Buddy Holly, was at The Strand for 7 years until 2002, and in 2005 the theatre underwent a major £3.25 million refurbishment programme to return it to its former glory. It was renamed The Novello Theatre in honour of the legendary composer and actor who in earlier years had occupied a flat within the building.
More recently the theatre has played host to highly successful Royal Shakespeare seasons including Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter in Antony and Cleopatra and David Tennant in Hamlet, along with acclaimed dramas including Shadowlands and An Inspector Calls. Since 2012 The Novello Theatre has been home to Mammia Mia! after the show transfered from The Prince of Wales.
Novello Theatre tickets in London:
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