The current Vaudeville Theatre in The Strand is actually the third theatre to have been built on this site - although each theatre, when built, has kept a substantial part of the previous building!
The original Vaudeville Theatre was designed by C J Phipps and opened on 16 April 1870. This theatre, which had a capacity of 1000, was built behind the then existing facade facing onto The Strand, with alterations to this elevation only being made on the ground floor to accommodate an entrance into the theatre which was built behind.
Barely twenty years later The Vaudeville Theatre was closed down and reconstructed, to designs once again by the architect C J Phipps, and reopened on 13 January 1891. This time it was the frontage onto The Strand that was replaced with an impressive four-storey high frontage in Portland Stone, which remains down to this day. The horse-shoe shaped auditorium remained the same except for some remodelling. The capacity of this second Vaudeville Theatre was around 740.
This theatre lasted for some thirty four years before it was closed in November 1925 and the interior was completely gutted. The Portland Stone frontage was left untouched, but the horseshoe-shaped auditorium was lengthen at both ends and made narrower to became oblong shaped in an Adamsque style. In addition the stage area was also reconfigured. This design work was done by the architect Robert Atkinson.
This major work amazingly only took three months to complete and the third Vaudeville Theatre on this site, and the one we know today, opened on Tuesday 23 February 1926 with a revue called R S V P which garnered publicity by having its final dress reheasal broadcast on BBC radio and enjoyed a run of some 297 performances - a good run for the time.
A contemporary report from February 1926 highlighted that The Vaudeville Theatre has "neither pit or gallery and all seats can be booked" which was still unusual for the time - in total there where 712 seats on three levels. Today the seating capacity has been reduced slightly to just under 700. The Vaudeville Theatre, as its name suggests, staged mostly revues and vaudeville shows in it's early days.
After the Second World War notable productions included William Douglas Home's play The Chiltern Hundreds which run for 651 performances. The theatre scored its biggest hit when, on 5 August 1954, the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' musical Salad Days opened and played for an amazing total of 2,283 performances - becoming the longest running production in the history of The Vaudeville Theatre(s) and breaking the then existing record for a musical production previously held by Chu Chin Chow. Unfortunately for the producers of the '40th Anniversary Production' of Salad Days, featuring the cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, which opened here in April 1996, history didn't repeat itself - the revival closed after just four months, but then the producers had 'hedged their bets' and advertised it as a 'strictly limited run' - it was just a bit more limited than hoped for!. Likewise, when a revival of The Chiltern Hundreds opened here in November 1999 it lasted barely 100 performances, perhaps a victim of modern tastes.
Other notable productions that have been staged here include Arnold Wesker's Chips With Everything, Willy Russell's play Shirley Valentine with Pauline Collins, and more recently the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical 70, Girls, 70 with Dora Bryan and Simon Gray's play Hidden Laughter. In the late 1990s the famous farceur Ray Cooney decided to try writing an updated sequel to his huge hit, Run For You Wife, which had enjoyed a nine year run during the 1980s. It was called Caught in the Net as the story involved the use of the Internet, or 'Net. It opened here in August 2001 in a production starring Russ Abbot and Eric Sykes but it only managed a run of ten months, still respectable, but not record breaking. Nearly breaking the long-running record here at the Vaudevllle Theatre was the entertainment Stomp which opened here on 25 September 2002 and continued for playing for five years before transferring to the Ambassadors Theatre in October 2007 - just six months short of the five-and-a-half year record set by Salad Days in the 1950s. For the last few years the theatre here has played host to a number of plays and comedies which all normally run for limited seasons.
When you visit the Vaudeville Theatre, or even when you're just walking past, be sure to admire the newly restored stained glass canopy at the front!