The Noel Coward Theatre was originally called The New Theatre when it was built in 1903 as a 'back-to-back' pair with The Wyndham's Theatre by actor-manager and theatre owner Sir Charles Wyndham. It is operated by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres who took over the freehold and management of th Noel Coward Theatre in September 2005. From January 1973 to May 2006 the theatre was known at The Albery Theatre.
Sir Charles Wyndham's The Wyndham's Theatre, designed by the architect W G R Sprague, had been completed in November 1899, leaving a vacant plot of land towards the rear with frontage onto St Martin's Lane. During 1903 people would ask "what's being built behind The Wyndham's Theatre?" and the reply would be "It's Charles Wyndham's new theatre." The name 'Wyndham's Theatre' had already, ofcourse, been taken, thus, almost by default, when the 'new' theatre opened on 12 March 1903 it was called The New Theatre. Today it is known as The Noel Coward Theatre.
Like The Wyndham's Theatre, The New Theatre was designed by W G R Sprague with seating on four levels. The St Martin's Lane frontage of the theatre, which can still be seen today, is in the 'Free Classical' style, while internally the auditorium was decorated in the 'Louis XVI' style - the essence of this gold and cream design remains down to today. An attendee to a private viewing of the theatre by Sir Charles Wyndham prior to the theatre's opening in 1903 exclaimed that this was "one of the prettiest and most airy theatres yet built in London, even by that experienced theatrical architect, Mr W G R Sprague."
There is a pedestrian thoroughfare between The Wyndham's Theatre and The Albery Theatre over which the two buildings are linked at high level by an enclosed foot bridge.
On the 1 January 1973 the theatre was renamed The Albery Theatre in honour of the late Sir Bronson Albery who had been the theatre's manager for many years, and whose bust can be seen in the theatre's foyer.
Since opening in 1903 with the play Rosemary starring Sir Charles Wyndham and his wife Mary Moore, The Albery Theatre has hosted a range of theatrical presentations. Most notably these have included Fred Terry and Julia Neilson's annual six month seasons between 1905 to 1913 during which time their very successful production of The Scarlet Pimpernel was originally presented and revived no less than six times in total.
Dion Boucicault, the famous playwright's son, became manager of the theatre in 1915 during which time he presented five Christmas revival's of Peter Pan up to 1919 along with a number of other successful productions. It was at this theatre in 1920 that a young Noel Coward had his produced play presented. It was called "I'll Leave It To You". Unfortunately, although it received good reviews from the critics, the paying public decided to 'leave it' and it managed a run of only five weeks - but for Coward it was at least a start to a career as a distinguished playwright - and some 86 years later the theatre was renamed The Noel Coward Theatre in his honour.
Other notable productions at this theatre include the 1924 production of George Bernard Shaw's St Joan which starred Sybil Thorndike in the title role - a role she played to great acclaim for 244 performances. During the 1930s and 40s other great names from British theatre appeared here - John Gielgud's production of Hamlet, which he also starred in, played for 155 performances in 1934 and, in 1935 Gielgud along with Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft and Edith Evans starred in Romeo and Juliet for 186 performances.
With the outbreak of World War II, and the bombing of their own theatres in south and north London, The Old Vic Theatre Company (now The National Theatre) and The Sadler's Wells Theatre Company moved their headquarters to The New Theatre, where they presented a range classic drama and ballet over the next nine years. After they returned to their respective theatres in the early 1950s, The New Theatre went on to present a range of plays and comedies, but it wasn't until 1960 that the theatre would score it's first big hit when the musical Oliver! opened on 30 June. Written by the British composer and lyricist Lionel Bart and based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, Oliver! was a huge hit, running for some 2,618 performances!
Other more recent productions include a 1994 revival of Turgenev's A Month in the Country which starred John Hurt and Helen Mirren and the very short lived Simon Gray play Cell Mates which briefly starred Stephen Fry - until he walked out of the production a couple of days after the first night following disappointing reviews.