Current show: Now in its new London West End home - the ABBA stage musical Mamma Mia! set on a tiny Greek island were a wedding is about to take place...
Originally opened at the Waldorf Theatre in 1905, it was designed by W G R Sprague as a twin with the Aldwych Theatre, which was still being built by the time at the Warldorf Theatre opened. The space between the two theatres stands the Waldorf Hotel, a later addition from 1908 which was designed by the Scottish architect Alexander Marshall Mackenzie.
Jut prior to opened it was reported that "the Waldorf Theatre in Aldwych, which has been designed by Mr Sprague, is the last theatre which will be built in London under present regulations with three tiers. It is also the second theatre in London - His Majesty's Theatre being the first - to have a stage with no rake. There is, on the other hand, a very steep rake in the stalls. The theatre is not a large one, but has been cleverly designed to afford great holding capacity, which includes a space for standing room (at reduced prices) at either end of the circles. The proscenium opening is 31ft by 29ft, and as the stage is not more than 39ft deep, it will not be suitable for very elaborate spectacular productions. The general scheme of Messrs Waring and Gillow's decoration in the auditorium is fleur de peche marble of a violet colour, with a good deal of gilding, rose du Barry panels, cream and gold tiers and boxes, and large ornamental gilt mirrors. The style throughout is Louis XIV, and the details have been consistently carried out, including some handsome bronze chandeliers, and a wrought-iron balustrade to the central staircase, all copied from good models. There are only two boxes on each side; the Royal Box and the Duke of Bedford's Box, each with its retiring room, being on the left of the audience. Above the proscenium is a bold bas-relief in cream and gold representing Apollo in his chariot and the ceiling of the house is painted in the style of Le Brun, and a deep cornice runs all-round the house. The crush-room and main staircase are covered in alternate stripes of dove-coloured and bréche-violet marble, the capitals of the pilasters being gilt. Each tier has a large refreshment room; the stage can be clearly seen from all parts of the house and there are tip-seats in pit and gallery. The dressing rooms are, for safety, contained in what is practically a separate building, access to the stage being obtained through two iron doors. It looks, at present, as if the outside of the house were overloaded with urns and ornament, but it is too early to judge before the scaffolding and coverings are removed."
The theatre opened on Monday 22 May 1905 with an eight week season of Grand Opera at moderate prices produced by Henry Russell who had brought over to London from Italy a huge company featuring, in addition to the principles, a chorus of 65, an orchestra of 62 along with all the scenery, props and costumes. The theatre's name was changed to the Strand Theatre in 1909, then to the Whitney Theatre in 1911 when the lease was taken over by the American theatre producer F C Whitney. In 1913 it reverted back to the Strand Theatre then, in 2005, the named was changed to the Novello Theatre in honour of the composer Ivor Novello who lived in a flat above the theatre for many years.
Notable productions staged here over the years include Joseph Kesselring's black comedy Arsenic And Old Lace which opened on Wednesday 23 December 1942 and had become this theatre's longest running show by the time it finally closed on Saturday 2 March 1946 after a run of 1,337 performances. Interestingly the production continued to prove so popular with the theatregoing public that, just three weeks later it was announced that it would return to London's West End at the Cambridge Theatre for further six weeks from Saturday 6 April 1946. In contrast, and showing how the public's tastes have changed, a revival of Arsenic And Old Lace opened here on Tuesday 25 February 2003 but closed early after a run of just 111 performances.
In the 1950s Falkland L Cary and Philip King's farce Sailor Beware opened on Wednesday 16 February 1955 and run for three years up to Saturday 22 February 1958. The farce made a star out of Peggy Mount as the battle-axe Emma Hornett who dominates her hen-pecked husband. In 1963 the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum starring Frankie Howerd opened on Thursday 3 October 1963 and enjoyed a run of some 22 months. The longest-running and most successful production here at the Novello Theatre was the 'classic' Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot farce No Sex Please We're British which opened on Thursday 3 June 1971. The original cast featured Michael Crawford and Evelyn Laye while the production continued here for a total of 4,417 performances before it transferred to the Garrick Theatre to continue its run. More recently the musical A Slice Of Saturday Night enjoyed a run here in 1993 while the music bio Buddy which, after six years at The Victoria Palace Theatre, transferred to this theatre in October 1995 enjoyed a run here of some 2,664 performances.
Delfont Mackintosh Theatres took over the management of the theatre on 25 March 2003 and they undertook a major refurbishment of the building theatre and it reopened as the Novello Theatre on 8 December 2005 with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company.