The Wyndham's Theatre was built for the actor/manager Charles Wyndham and his leading lady, Mary Moore (who he went on to marry in March 1916). At the time of the opening the Second Boer War had just started the month before in South Africa and there was much patriotic fever in London - and so the opening of the Wyndham's Theatre on Thursday 16 November 1899 deemed a charity performance to go towards to War Relief Fund. The 'gross value' of a full house would at that time have normally been around £300, but with increased ticket prices and donations from the audience, a total of £4,000 was raised on that opening night - around £400,000 at today's values.
The Times explained: "No playhouse could have a more successful opening or one with happier augury for its future than that which the new and handsome theatre that Mr. Charles Wyndham has built for himself in the Charing Cross Road had last night. In any case the new venture of so favourite an actor would have attracted wide notice and been launched amid general expressions of good will. When it became known that Mr. Wyndham had decided to give the whole proceeds of the opening performance to the object which at this moment is enlisting all our sympathies, the enthusiasm of his intending supporters knew no bounds. Seats were sold at fabulous prices. The rush for places carried all before it. When the usual reserved seats had been sold, the pit was encroached upon by stalls. Finally, the whole pit was numbered and reserved at a guinea ahead, and even two rows of the gallery were treated in the same way. There is no doubt at all that every place in the house could have been thus disposed of. But here, in justice to his patrons of light purse, Mr. Wyndham determined to stop. For the ordinary 'pittite' there was last night only standing room. But the gallery was as usual, save for the two rows. It would indeed have been disappointing in the ardent persons who stood or sat or grovelled outside the doors during the whole of yesterday if, when opening time came, they had found no seats awaiting their wearied frames. At any rate they had the satisfaction of knowing, as had every member of the audience before the end of the evening, that they had helped to swell the War Relief Fund by the splendid sum of $4,000."
The opening night started with Leo Trevor's one act play Dr. Johnson after which a military band came on stage and played 'God Save The Queen', 'God Bless the Prince of Wales' and 'Rule Britannia', with the packed audience joining in the singing. After this Thomas William Robertson's play David Garrick was presented with Charles Wyndham himself playing 'David Garrick' and Mary Moore as 'Ada Ingot'. At the conclusion Charles Wyndham gave a short speech and presented the proceeds from the evening to the Aldershot branch of the Soldiers' Wives and Families Association to much cheering and applauding from the packed audience.
"When the curtain drew up the appearance of the house really merited the use of that hard-worked and often misused adjective 'brilliant'," wrote The Times. "It was an exceedingly bright and cosy theatre that welcomed this first-night audience. In appearance and in comfort it leaves little to desire. The white and cream paint of the auditory shows off to advantage the turquoise blue draperies and one is grateful to the decorator for having been so sparing with his gold. There is gold, of course. It is as much de rigueur, at present, for a theatre as a gold frame is for a Royal Academy picture. But here it is not thickly laid and flaunted, as it is too often, and the general scheme of decoration has many artistic qualities. In the corridors and saloon the hangings are of 'old rose,' which the uninitiated would probably call pink. But it is a delicate pink, and agreeable to the eye. There is even a special saloon for the family circle as well as for the dress circle and the stalls; and the pretty blue decoration is carried right up to the gallery... Roof panels after Boucher harmonize with the delicate flower-studies round the grand tier and with the soft glow diffused by the pink and pale yellow shades over the electric lights. From above the proscenium portrait plaques of Oliver Goldsmith (left) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (right) look down with benignant expressions, and hint, we may hope, at the high level of comedy at which Wyndham's Theatre will aim." The original plan for the theatre included a roof garden, but this sadly never came to pass.
Notable productions here include Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend which opened on 14 January 1954 and lasted for 2,084 performances. The other famous musical long runner at this theatre was Tebelak and Schwartz's Godspell with David Essex, Marti Webb and Jeremy Irons which opened in January 1972 and lasted until October 1974. More recent productions here include Diana Rigg in Medea and Maggie Smith in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women. Yasmina Reza's Art opened here in October 1996 and stayed until October 2001 when it transferred to the Whitehall Theatre (now Trafalgar Studios). Famously Madonna made her much publicised West End stage debut here in Up For Grabs in 2002. Rather less famously, comic Michael Barrymore attempted a 'come-back' stage show here in September 2003 with a seven week season - the show played one preview before opening, and then closed the following day. The Times newspaper said of it: "To say that sitting through Michael Barrymore's comeback show is like watching a train crash tells only half the story. Most of the time, it is much worse than that."
Closes 14 September 2019
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