Current show: The Agatha Christie 'whodunit' The Mousetrap
"A charming little place"
The St Martin's Theatre, located in West Street, was designed by the architect W G R Spraque in 1916 for Lord Willoughby de Broke as a companion to the Ambassadors Theatre next door which had been built some three years earlier. Opened in the middle of the Great War (World War One) on Thursday 23 November 1916, the Financial Times said: "It must add one more to the many puzzles which English characteristics have afforded the Hun that anyone should have the courage to build and open a new theatre in war time. The St Martin's is next door to the Ambassadors, and as the outcome of its small dimensions, as London theatres go, bids fair to develop the same intimate atmosphere. If Houp La! the sort of revue selected for the opening piece, is not so artistic as the house it is played in, at any rate it is a bright and bustling show eminently suitable for the Christmas season." The musical comedy Houp La!, written by Fred Thompson and Hugh E Wright with music by Nat D Ayer and Howard Talbot, enjoyed a run of 108 performances.
The Guardian described this new theatre as being "a charming little place where, if you like to pay a guinea for your stall [the equivalent of £75.00 today] you may see some agreeable quiet wood panelling and some pleasing peacock blue coverings which are grateful to the eye and very 'classy' in effect." The warm polished wood interior remains down to today and is unique within London's West End theatres.
Notable productions here at the St Martin's Theatre include the London West End premiere JB Priestly's play When We Are Married which opened on Tuesday 11 October 1938. Due to the injury in a car accident a few weeks after opening night of the actor Frank Pettingell who played the role of 'Henry Ormonroyd', the photographer, in the play, JB Priestly himself took over the role in what was his West End stage debut. During 'late night' rehearsals Priestly said: "I am going to throw myself on the indulgence of the audience. I am doing this simply as a sporting gesture, for , I hope, a few days, because we cannot find anyone else to take Mr Pettingell's place at such short notice. I don't know how it will turn out. Although I wrote the part, it isn't so easy to remember it. Just how many lines there are I don't know, and I shouldn't like to know; but there it is. As things are at present I shall appear tomorrow night; and now I must get on with my rehearsals." Although his West End acting debut on Monday 31 October 1938 went well and was well received, at little speech of thanks he made at the curtain, JB Priestly assured the audience that "This is not the beginning of a new career for myself"! He did play the role though up to Wednesday 9 November 1938 after which George Carney took over the role due to the original actor having not fully recovered from his car accident. The play closed on 11 March 1939 and transferred to the Princes Theatre. This production was also notable for being the first theatre production to be televised when an entire performance was broadcast direct from the stage in November 1938 on the London Television Alexandra Palace service. At the time it was estimated that there where around only 6,000 television sets in use in London and thus it was expected that the total TV audience would have been around 25,000, with each television being watched by small groups and families.
On Wednesday 11 April 1945 Edward Percy's murder thriller The Shop At Sly Corner enjoyed a run of 863 performances - a notably long run at the time - before closing on Saturday 3 May 1947 while, more recently, Anthony Shaffer's thriller Sleuth opened on Thursday 12 February 1970 and closed on 3 March 1973, transferring to the Garrick Theatre, then the Fortune Theatre where it finally closed on Saturday 25 October 1975 after over five years in the West End.
The theatre is now best known for being the home of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. The play originally opened at the adjacent Ambassadors Theatre on Tuesday 25 November 1952 before it transferred here at the St Martins Theatre on Monday 25 March 1974 - where it has been ever since! In the theatre's main foyer there is a sign (on the right hand side as you go in from the street) which proudly states the exact performance number of The Mousetrap that you are about to see! Why not make a note of it in your programme?
We are sure that when you visit The St Martin's Theatre you too will be impressed, as was the audience at the theatre's opening night, by this 'charming and classy little theatre'.