The Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall are one of the newer places to watch shows around London, emerging in 1930, the same year as the Prince Edward, the Cambridge, the Phoenix, the Adelphi and the Leicester Square theatres. The space opened as the Whitehall Theatre in 1930, which itself was a conversion from a pub, Ye Old Ship Tavern, which had stood on the site since the era of Oliver Cromwell (the Tavern survives on Whitehall, after it was rebuilt and put on the other side of the road).
With its Art Deco interior and two-levelled auditorium, the theatre’s capacity of 620 makes it perfect for intimate shows, mainly revues and comedies. In 1942, Phyllis Dixey starred in The Whitehall Follies, which was notable because she became the first stripper to perform in the theatre district. This kept morale up in London during the Second World War. After the war, the theatre became known for putting on farces, produced by Brian Rix and many available for consumption on TVs, for which there was increased demand in the 1950s and 1960s. These farces included Pyjama Tops, another risqué show with nudity, which ran from 1969 until 1974. During this time, Paul Raymond bought the Whitehall Theatre’s lease; the notorious developer, nicknamed the King of Soho, was defeated in his aim to lessen the status of theatre in the building, which was refurbished and reopened in 1986, where it hosted musical tributes to acts like Roy Orbison and the Rat Pack, plays by Priestley and Wilde, and BBC Radio 4’s Live from London.
In 2004, the Whitehall Theatre became the Trafalgar Studios. As the name suggests, one space became two, with the larger space (Studio One) seating 380 and the smaller one, where the Whitehall Stalls seating had been, seating only 100. This is now known as Studio Two.
Since opening as the Trafalgar Studios with Sweeney Todd, its major performances have included a season from the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006, Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs in Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber, Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton, starring Imelda Staunton, and comedian Lenny Henry cast in Othello.
In 2013, the Trafalgar Transformed season begins with Jamie Lloyd’s version of Macbeth, starring James MacAvoy, and an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. Its aim is to attract new theatregoers, who would normally be put off by the conventions of straight theatre.
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