Palace Theatre Archive

Current Show: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Transferring to the Palace Theatre in December 1985 was Trevor Nunn and John Caird's production of the Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil musical Les Miserables. The production had originally opened in London as a co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cameron Mackintosh at the Barbican Theatre two months earlier. The actresses Frances Ruffelle, who played 'Eponine' in the original cast said that "Back then it was quite unique. The scale of the story is like an opera but most of the time you don't really get the story in opera, you have to read it in the programme first. So to be sung through like this, with the audience listening to every word, was very different. Also the revolve staging was really quite amazing for its time. I don't think there had been anything like that before." Unfortunately the show opened to rather mixed notices: Irving Wardle in The Times said "The show increasingly gives itself up to spectacle and push-button emotionalism at the expense of character and content... prodigies of talent, energy and money have been poured into the production, only to confirm the general rule that musicals trivialise everything they touch." Michael Ratcliffe in The Observer commented that "it is less depressing that the RSC is presenting this witless and synthetic entertainment in the hope of making some money (why not?) than that they appear to believe it is a piece of quality and an exciting development of their best work. It is a parody of it." And John Peter in The Sunday Times described it as being "a highly charged, garrulous tale, psychologically shallow, full of florid but improbable gestures and studded with set pieces of insufferable sentimentality."

Frances Ruffelle said: "It was quite surprising to get such bad reviews. It was horrible actually. We couldn't believe it because we could see from the audience that they absolutely loved it and it was absolutely packed at the Barbican. Cameron had taken a big chance booking it into the West End at Andrew Lloyd Webber's Palace Theatre. After all those reviews nobody thought we would get there." Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had only then recently taken over ownership of the Palace Theatre was so doubtful about the show's commercial possibilities that he offered to return the £50,000 non-returnable deposit that the producer Cameron Mackintosh had put down to secure the theatre. Fortunately before deciding if the transfer should be aborted, Mackintosh phoned up the Barbican box-office to ask how ticket sales were going: "I'm surprised you could through," he was told "The phones haven't stopped ringing all morning, and there's a queue outside 50 yards long. We've never known anything like it." And thus it was decided to transfer the show to the Palace Theatre where it played to sell-out audiences. Frances Ruffelle went on to reprise the role of 'Eponine' in the show's Broadway premiere where she won the Tony Award for 'Best Featured Actress in a Musical' but had to pull out of the show after just six months due to hyperemesis gravidarum, acute morning sickness, when she became pregnant with her first child, Eliza, the singer-songwriter now best known by her stage name, Eliza Doolittle. The pregnancy caused a bit of a scandal at the time due to the father being the show's co-director John Caird was already married to somebody else though whom he had three children. Interestingly, eight years later - in the summer of 1996 - with Ruffelle again playing the role of 'Eponine' here at the Palace Theatre, her daughter Eliza successfully auditioned to play 'Young Cosette' in the London cast, leading Ruffelle to say that "I had to give the show up for her once and now we are in it together. At least I will see more of her."

Les Miserables finally closed here at the Palace Theatre at the end of March 2004 - but only so that the production could move down Shaftesbury Theatre to the smaller Queens Theatre a few days later. The 'psychological illusionist' Derren Brown brought his first West End show here for an extended three week limited run during June 2004 after which the Palace Theatre was then prepared to take the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Woman in White which opened here in September 2004. Adapted from Wilkie Collins's Victorian thriller by Charlotte Jones and featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by David Zippel, the original cast featured Maria Friedman as 'Marian' and, making his long awaited return to the London West End stage following his success in Webber's The Phantom of the Opera 18 years previous, Michael Crawford as 'Count Fosco'. Some people though in the public preview audiences though failed to recognise Crawford, as the show's producer, Sonia Friedman said: "Michael is wearing a fat suit and a lot of prosthetics every time he goes on stage as Count Fosco as he loves his food, his wine - he's got a lust for life. During the first few previews of the show nobody knew at all what they were coming to see. We had lots of people in the audience leafing through the programmes when Michael came on, wondering if that was really him." One feature of the show was the use of moving projections designed by William Dudley. Maria Friedman described the show as being like "a rollercoaster thriller with a luscious score. It's a fantastically mature piece of writing for Andrew Lloyd Webber. What I'm hearing from audiences is that it is also one of the best stories ever to be put on stage. You're gripped from start to finish and what is theatre for except telling a cracking story? It's devastatingly beautiful. The eye is bathed in so many wonderful images. In terms of design it is completely revolutionary and it will lead to a new way of writing for the stage because you can be anywhere at any time. I love it, that's all I can say, and the audiences appear to be loving it, too. You can hear a pin drop, they're so enraptured." During the run Ruthie Henshall took over as 'Marian' while the role of 'Fosco' was taken by a number of actors including Michael Ball, Anthony Andrews, Simon Callow and David Burt before the show closed after a run of 18 months in February 2006.

Bill Kenwright's re-worked revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's musical Whistle Down the Wind, which had been enjoying success touring the UK, opened here in March 2006 for a short five month West End season as a 'filler' before the eagerly awaited arrival from Broadway of the Monty Python musical Spamalot. 'Lovingly ripped off' by Eric Idle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with musical and lyrics by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, the orginal cast featured the return to the West End stage of Tim Curry as 'King Arthur'. When it closed after a run of just over two years it was replaced by the stage version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical. Opening here in March 2009 following a successful run in Australia, the stage version differed from the 1994 film - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - with the selection of dance floor classics that it used in telling the story of of two drag queens and a transsexual who set off an old bus, called 'Priscilla', looking for love and adventure in the Australian outback en route to performing at a casino in Alice Springs. The musical enjoyed a good run of just under three years before closing on New Year's Eve Saturday 31 December 2011.

Having enjoyed a successful summer season at the Chichester Festival Theatre during 2011, Jonathan Church's stage revival of the classic MGM film musical Singin' In The Rain, with choreography by Andrew Wright, opened here at the Palace Theatre in February 2012 and run for 15 months before closing in June 2013. Two weeks later the illusionist Derren Brown returned here with his sixth West End show Derren Brown: Infamous which enjoyed an extended eight week season. This was then followed in October 2013 by the the stage premiere of Roddy Doyle's novel The Commitments which is set in Dublin and tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte and a bunch of amateur musicians and friends who form a soul band. It enjoyed a successful run of just over two years before closing in November 2015 - during the run, in August 2015. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's new musical for all the family, The 3 Little Pigs, enjoyed an 'all-star' five month season of special daytime performances here during August and September 2015.

In January 2016 Eddie Izzard presented his one man show Force Majeure Reloaded for a four week season. The Palace Theatre then closed to get ready for it's next production - the eagerly awaited stage premiere of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which opened in July 2016 and continues to play to sell-out audiences.