New London Theatre Archive

Current show: The musical School of Rock

Picking up a copy of T S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats on the way to the airport, gave Andrew Lloyd Webber an idea for a new show: "I wanted to compose to an existing text rather than a commissioned one, although it's not quite true to say that I envisaged Cats as a musical. It began as much more of a song cycle in the manner of Tell Me on a Sunday. Indeed, that was how we tried it out at the summer festival in my house near Newbury. I made 10 settings of the Possum poems and Gary Bond, Gemma Craven and Paul Nicholas performed them. T S Eliot's widow, Valerie, came down and it was under her influence that the whole thing became a musical. She brought with her a number of unpublished items, poems and fragments of poems, letters, and T S Eliot's lists of cat names. As we talked it became clear that Old Possum was conceived as a much larger book... Perhaps most important of all there was a poem about Grisabella, a tarty cat who 'haunts the grimy Road of Tottenham Court'. Eliot deliberately suppressed that in a collection which was basically intended for children." And thus Cats the Musical opened at the New London Theatre on 11 May 1981, playing for an amazing 8,949 performances before closing, on its 21st Birthday in 2001.

The next show at the New London Theatre was a five month run of Umoja - The Spirit of Togetherness, a dance show from South Africa, which transferred here from the Shaftesbury Theatre where it had been closed down by the council due to problems with the noise for local neighbours. In February 2003 Bill Kenwright presented his revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Stephen Gately as 'Joseph'. The production enjoyed a 31 month season up to September 2005 during which it managed to play an intensive schedule of nine performances a week by having three shows on a Saturday - at 2.00pm, 5.00pm and 8.00pm.

Having played off-Broadway since 1991, the Blue Man Group finally made their West End debut at the New London Theatre in November 2005. Described as 'a multi-sensory circus of a show bringing together live music, comedy and drama' the show enjoyed a 21 month run before closing in June 2007. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre then took over the theatre for a two month Christmas season where they transferred from their base in Stratford-upon-Avon, two plays directed by Trevor Nunn in repertory: William Shakespeare's King Lear featuring Ian McKellen in the title role of 'King Lear' with William Gaunt as 'Gloucester'; and Anton Checkhov's The Seagull with Ian McKellen and William Gaunt alternating the role of 'Sorin'.

Trevor Nunn returned to the theatre with the next show in April 2008 - a new stage musical version of Gone with the Wind, which run for a rather long three hours and 40 minutes each evening. Unfortunately is opened to rather poor reviews: The London Evening Standard advised that "connoisseurs of big, bad musicals must rush to catch Gone With the Wind in case it's quickly blown away on gales of ridicule"; and the Sunday Express proclaimed that "with book, music and lyrics by debutant writer Margaret Martin, who is a doctor in public health in California, it desperately needs a show doctor to fix it, not a medical one." The show closed after eight weeks.

After having a 'try-out' in Plymouth, the new musical Imagine This was the next show to open at the New London in November 2008. Set during 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto the musical opened to somewhat mixed notices from the critics. Michael Billington in The Guardian wrote: "They said it couldn't be done: a musical about the Warsaw ghetto. And, now that I've seen it, I know that they were right." The show's producer Beth Trachtenberg complained about the reception the show had received from the critics, saying: "Many of our visitors are the children of survivors, they have more right to decide the validity of the show than holier than thou critics." Although the show closed after just six weeks, the production was videotaped during the run and was broadcast during April 2010 in the USA on PBS and was subsequently on DVD.

The next production to open here was War Horse. Adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford from the novel by Michael Morpurgo and presented by the National Theatre in association with the Handspring Puppet Company, the play had already enjoyed two sell-out season at the NT's Olivier Theatre by time it transferred to the New London in April 2009, running here for seven years and becoming the second longest running production at the New London Theatre. In June 2016, Daniel Evans' acclaimed revival of the classic musical Show Boat transfered here from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. During it's five month season here, the children's show The Elephantom played a two season of daytime performances duirng the school holidays. The next production to open here will be Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage production of School of Rock from October 2016.