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Prince of Wales Theatre

Prince of Wales Theatre 31 Coventry Street, London W1D 6AS

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Seating Plan Seating Plan: View Seating Plan Open in new window
Nearest Tube Station Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus (approx. 150m)
Parking Parking: MasterPark at Whitcomb Street.
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Venue Information:
Total Seats: 1100
Guide Dogs Guide Dogs: Guide dogs allowed into auditorium, alternatively staff are happy to dog-sit
Sound Amplification Infra-Red: Hearing-Impaired infra-red system in the auditorium and induction loop at Box Office.
Disabled Wheelchair Access Disabled Access: Wheelchair spaces available and wheelchair and scooter transfer spaces to designated aisle seats in the Stalls. Companions can sit beside them.
Toilets Toilets: Adapted toilets off the Stalls
Steps Steps: Slight slope into the box office foyer through double doors opening outwards on corner of Coventry and Whitcomb Street. Low level counter box office is to the left and main foyer, lifts and stairs are to the right. Lift serves the Stalls. Otherwise, there are 26 steps down to Stalls (slight rake) from the main foyer, or 22 steps up to Dress Circle foyer then 4 down to the front or 27 up to the back of the DC (2 steep steps between rows). All steps are highlighted with handrails on either side.
Air Conditioning Air Conditioning: Yes
Venue Owner Owner: Delfont Mackintosh Theatres

The well-known actor-manager of his day, Edgar Bruce, commissioned the first theatre on this site, initially called the Prince's Theatre, it was renamed The Prince of Wales in 1886. Bruce had made a handsome profit from a burlesque called The Colonel and decided to build his own theatre using this money. The architect was C.J. Phipps who designed a number of London theatres, probably the best known being Her Majesty's, Haymarket. The Prince's was flowery in style by comparison with today's theatre. The facade matched the hotel and restaurant next door (now the Thistle Hotel) and the interior boasted a Moorish foyer with a fountain playing and a 'smoking fernery' and 'grotto', complete with ornamental rocks, beneath. It was a traditional three-tier theatre, decorated in white, cream and gold that seated just over 1,000 people. Stronger burnt orange and terracotta colours were used for the drapes and seats - a theme that we see reutilised in the newly refurbished theatre.

áThe theatre opened on 18 January 1884 with W.S. Gilbert's fairy comedy, The Palace of Truth , preceded by a 1 Act comedy In Honour Bound. The former starred the distinguished actor, Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, and was the first of a number of appearances he made at the theatre during its opening season. The following year Lillie Langtry, reputedly the first society lady to become an actress, played in Princess George and The School for Scandal . Indeed the theatre became home to a veritable galaxy of stars, Martin Harvey appeared in Pelleas and Melisande (1898) with Mrs Patrick Campbell, in Don Juan's Last Wager (1900) with his wife N. da Silva and in his most famous role as Sydney Carton in The Only Way (1899). Charles Hawtrey had a notable success as Horace Barker in A Message from Mars (1901), a comedy also seen on Broadway and Marie Tempest became the leading comedy actress of the day with principal roles in English Nell (1900) and Becky Sharp (1901).

More unusually the theatre presented a number of mimed pieces, at that time normally confined to circuses and pantomimes. Plays such as L'Enfant Prodigue (1891) and A Pierrot's Life (1897) changed public perception of mime and led to the establishment of Britain's first Pierrot troupe.

However, the theatre was best known for musicals and comic operas such as Miss Hook of Holland (1907), with its matinee version Little Miss Hook of Holland , played by children for children, The Balkan Princess (1910), Broadway Jones (1914) and Carminetta (1917).

A period of highly successful revues began in 1919 with sketches written by Noel Coward and Ivor Novello. They starred Gertrude Lawrence, Jack Buchanan, Beatrice Lillie and Jessie Matthews. In 1922 The Co-Optimists gave what they described as a Pierrotic Entertainment, one of the Co-Optimists being Stanley Holloway. Ivor Novello wrote, and took the leading role in, his first play, The Rat , premiered at the Prince of Wales on 9 June 1924. The 1920s also saw productions of The Blue Train (1927), Alibi (1928), directed by Gerald du Maurier with Charles Laughton as a redoubtable Hercule Poirot, By Candlelight (1928) and Journey's End (1929). In 1930 Edith Evans risked her hard earned savings to become actress-manageress at the Prince of Wales. She presented and starred in Delilah but it was not a success.

From 1932 the theatre became known as London's Folies Bergere. It presented a series of risquT revues, advertised as having some 'gasp-making scenes and blush-making costumes'. The Daily Mail described Voila! Les Dames (1935) as 'The Show for the tired business man'. These shows were so successful that they funded the rebuilding of the theatre. The old one closed on 16 January 1937, demolition began on 25 January, and just nine months later the newly built theatre reopened. The architect, Robert Cromie, who was best known for designing cinemas, had managed to increase the seating capacity by fifty percent, enlarge the stage and provide improved facilities for both public and artists. Moving the boiler and air conditioning plant up into the tower enabled Cromie to create a large, stylish stalls bar, complete with dance floor, where the bar itself was 14 metres long.

The new theatre continued its highly successful policy of presenting non-stop Folies shows that ran continuously from 2pm until just before midnight. George Robey appeared in the opening one, Les Folies de Paris et Londres , during its Christmas season, but by May 1940 it was difficult to find leading artists willing to play 4 shows a day and for the first time in 8 years a musical comedy, Present Arms, was put on. On 17 February 1941 the theatre's owner, Alfred Esdaile, screened the UK premiere of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator . The film had been banned in many parts of Europe and Esdaile was fined for showing it.

In March 1943 the much loved comedian Sid Field appeared in Strike a New Note , later followed by Strike It Again (1944) and by Piccadilly Hayride (1946), a revue designed by Erte and Berkeley Sutcliffe that ran for 778 performances. But it is perhaps for his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in the comedy about a white rabbit called Harvey that he is best remembered, a role also played by James Stewart at the Prince of Wales some 26 years later. Mae West hit town in Diamond Lil , in 1948. 'Who else can manage to 'shimmy' sitting down?' wrote one reviewer.

Throughout the 1950s the theatre was home to variety and revues. Famous names who trod the boards include Norman Wisdom, Peter Sellers, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Benny Hill, Hughie Green, Frankie Howerd and Morecambe and Wise. This pattern was interrupted in 1959 by The World of Suzie Wong, the story of a Hong Kong prostitute and her artist lover that became the longest running play to date with 832 performances.

In 1962 Come Blow Your Horn , a comedy by Neil Simon starred Bob Monkhouse, David Kossoff and a 20-year old Michael Crawford as Buddy Baker. The following year Martha Graham and Dance Company gave a season at the theatre, their first visit to Britain for 11 years, and Graham's ballet Circe received its world premiere here. Funny Girl transferred from Broadway in 1966 with the young American star Barbra Streisand in the leading role of Fanny Brice. One of the songs from the show 'People' became a Top 10 hit. Two other Broadway shows followed, Sweet Charity (1967), starring Juliet Prowse as Charity and the Burt Bacharach musical, Promises, Promises (1969).

A revival of The Threepenny Opera (1972) directed by Tony Richardson saw Vanessa Redgrave make a rare musical appearance as Polly Peachum and also featured Joe Melia, Hermione Baddeley, Diana Quick, Miriam Margolyes and Barbara Windsor. Later the same year the Julian Slade musical Trelawny transferred from Sadler's Wells where it had brought a young Gemma Craven into the public eye.

Harry Secombe played a straight role as a plumber who makes it good in The Plumber's Progress (1976), winning the hand of the burgher's daughter from the lecherous Prince, one Simon Callow. In 1982 Roy Hudd and Christopher Timothy assumed the personae of Flanagan and Allen in Underneath the Arches that became the longest running show for 13 years. (The real Flanagan and Allen had appeared at the Prince of Wales in September 1945).

However, the show that smashed all previous records was Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love (1989), based on the novel by David Garnett, which played to over 1 million people at 1325 performances. More recently the theatre has been home to musicals and dance shows such as West Side Story, Fosse, The Witches of Eastwick, Rent and the British premiere of The Full Monty. The Prince of Wales closed for renovation in July 2003. Since then it has undergone a ˙7.5 million refurbishment making it one of the most stylish, spacious and comfortable theatres in the West End. It was officially reopened by the Prince of Wales on 10 June 2004 when he attended a Gala performance of Mamma Mia! in aid of the Prince's Trust.

The Prince of Wales is owned and managed by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Limited who have undertaken the ˙7.5 million refurbishment programme to give the West End one of its most stylish, spacious and comfortable theatres.

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