The Fortune Theatre, London
Current show: Stephen Mallatratt's stage adaptation of Susan Hill's best selling novel The Woman in Black about a lawyer who is obsessed with the belief that he and his family have been cursed and in an attempt to exorcise the evil, he engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story.
Architect: Ernest Schaufelberg
The Fortune Theatre in Russell Street is a small compact and intimate traditional style proscenium arch theatre designed by the architect Ernest Schaufelberg in a restrained 'Art Deco' style. The theatre seats just over 400 people on three levels. Although preliminary ground works where started in December 1922, the building work was slow, taking nearly twice as long as at first anticipated. Finally, after two years and much delay, the theatre finally opened its doors to the public on Saturday 8 November 1924 - the first West End theatre to be built after the First World War.
A commentary at the time described theatre as being "a cosy little box, built with an ingenious eye for economy of space; outside the severity of line. It hardly conveys the idea of a theatre, but in the hall there is the brightness of marble and gilt, and the auditorium looks comfortable in its uniformity of seats, all upholstered in green leather. The democratic spirit has prevailed in the accommodation: all the seats are of the same dimensions, every one of them has a clear view of the stage, and, as far as one could judge, the acoustics are everywhere perfect. So is the ventilation: thanks to the engineers of Sulzer Brothers in Winterthur, fresh air is constantly drawn from space and pumped into the house. There is no fear of stuffiness. The lighting-system is the most complete of any theatre in London. House and stage are under control of a single hand, and, thanks to the Schwabe-Hasait system, it will be possible to create the most variegated atmospheric effects. Another triumph of the economy of space is that the store-house of the scenery and 'props' is below the stage, so that all the material can be lifted through a trap in the middle. The dressing-rooms, fifteen in number, are small but comfortable, supplied with hot and cold water and centrally heated. The Fortune, by its compactness, its close contact between stage and auditorium, will be particularly suited to the fine art of the Theatre Intime, or to that other genre which demands intimacy between player and hearer - the revue. The colour-scheme of blue-greys, creams, browns, reds, and old-gold seems a little capricious, but it should not be judged until the reflectors are at work. When all is shipshape, the little theatre will be a real acquisition, reflecting much credit on the architect, and, particularly, on its originator, Mr. Laurence Cowen, who devoted so much energy, resource, and liberality to its construction. May the Fortune Theatre live up to the happy auspices of its name!"
The theatre itself is noted for two things in particular: Firstly the building is noted for being an early example of 'ferro-concrete' construction - as evidenced by the exposed concrete facing on the theatre's frontage. Secondly the building has a 'hanging freehold' with the adjacent Scottish National Church - the entrance to the church is to the immediate left of the front of the theatre and a corridor belonging to the Church runs along one side of the theatre's auditorium at ground level, with the stalls level under it, the Dress Circle level alongside it, and the Upper Circle above it! Thus somewhat appropriately (or perhaps, rather inappropriately!) considering the closeness this theatre has with the Church next door, the first production to be staged at this theatre was Laurence Cowan's play called Sinners!
Unfortunately the theatre has had a rather chequered history as for as productions go. The first 'hit' here was On Approval, a comedy of manners by Frederick Lonsdale, which had a run of just over one year in 1927. Then in 1957 the Flanders and Swan revue At The Drop Of A Hat run for 733 performances. In 1961 Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller staged their revue called Beyond The Fringe here - the show run for 1,184 performances before transferring to the Mayfair Theatre. In 1976 the stage adaptation of Agatha Christie's whodunit Murder At The Vicarage, which had opened at the Savoy Theatre on 28 July 1975, transferred to the Fortune Theatre on Monday 5 July 1976 and continued here for 1,373 performances before closing on Saturday 3 November 1979, becoming the longest-running production at this theatre at the time.
The record though for the Fortune Theatre's longest run though goes to the current production, The Woman in Black, a thriller adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from a novel by Susan Hill. The Woman in Black originally opened at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre on 17 January 1989 before transferring to the Strand Theatre (now called Novello) on 15 February 1989 and then again to the Playhouse Theatre from 18 April 1989 before finally moving here to the Fortune Theatre from 7 June 1989 where it has played ever since! The play broke Murder At The Vicarage's long-running record on Monday 28 September 1992 when it played it's 1,374th performance. This intimate theatre is reckoned to be the ideal venue for this two (or is it three?) person thriller and it continues to play here over 20 years and 10,000 performances later!
The Fortune Theatre benefited from a major renovation in 1960 and today it remains as a delightful intimate theatre, and a contrast to the huge 2,200 seater Drury Lane Theatre which drawfs it opposite in Russell Street.