Lyceum Theatre, London
The first Lyceum Theatre on this site dates from 1772 and was designed by James Payne. This theatre was pulled down to make way for a Samuel Beazley designed theatre which opened in 1815 and was noteworthy for being the first theatre in London to be lit by gas. The English premiere of Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutti took place here in 1828.
Unfortunately the theatre burned down in 1830. Samuel Beazley was once again engaged to design a new Lyceum Theatre on the site and this new theatre, with an impressive front portico which survives down to today, opened on 4 July 1834. The building was architectally important for having a balcony (the third tier) overhanging the circle (second tier).
In 1871 the actor Henry Irving first became associated with the Lyceum Theatre when he wowed audiences in The Bells. This was followed up over the following years with anumber of other performances culminating in Henry Irving's performance in the title role of Shakespeare's Hamet in 1874, establishing him as the leading actor of his day.
Henry Irving took over the management of The Lyceum Theatre in 1878 and remained in control for the next 21 years, until he had to relinquish the lease on the theatre due to a combination of failing health and financial problems, not helped with a fire in the theatre's store located under railway arches at Southwark in 1898. Henry Irving's last performance on the stage of The Lyceum Theatre was on 19 July 1902 whe he played the role of 'Shylock' in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
The new owners of the theatre, faced with the prospect of having to make expensive alternations to the theatre inorder to comply with new Fire Safety regulations, decided to demolish and rebuild the theatre. Thus the present Lyceum Theatre opened in 1904. It was designed by Bertie Crewe and built behind Beazley's facade and portico (which still exists today). For the first 30 years of the 20th century the Lyceum Theatre provided popular entertainment for the masses, including popular melodramas and annual pantomimes.
In 1939 it was announced that The Lyceum Theatre would be demolished to make way for a major redevelopment of the junction of the Strand, the Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge (AKA a traffic roundabout!) The final production, in June 1939, was Shakespeare's Hamlet, directed by John Gielgud, which finished its six performance run on Saturday 1 July 1939. John Gielgud concluded his emotionally charged farewell speech at the end of the performance with the words: "Long live the memory of the Lyceum Theatre! Long live the memory of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry!" This was followed in July by an auction of the theatre's fixtures and fittings including the seats and curtains. But then, a few months later, Britain entered the Second World War, and, thankfully, demolition of the theatre was put on hold.
The theatre remained vacant, and unused, until 1945 when it was leased to Mecca Ltd and was reopened as a popular ballroom/dancehall. As tastes changed the venue was used more and more for pop concerts and television broadcast - during the 1960s and 1970s it playing host to such acts as The Who, Bob Marley, U2 and Culture Club. Legitimate theatre returned briefly in 1985 with the transfer from The National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre of the three part mystery plays, The Mystery Plays adapted by Tony Harrison.
For the next nine years the theatre was to remain dark and boarded up - almost forgotten - until finally, in 1994, the lease was bought by the current owners Apollo Leisure (now Clear Channel Entertainment) who completely refurbished the building, bringing it back into theatrical use once again. Thus, on Thursday 31 October 1996 the building was officially reopened by HRH The Prince of Wales and the following month a major revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar opened here.