Prince Edward Theatre, London

Current show: Mary Poppins the stage musical

An imposingly large red brick theatre designed by Edward A Stone. Just prior to opening in 1930, the Guardian's Architectural Correspondent reported that "just a few yards behind the Palace Theatre, may now be seen a large building in good brown brick. It has a front elevation to Old Compton Street and a long side elevation to Greek Street; and this side elevation is like a great blank wall without any windows, but with doric pilasters and arches, all in brick. On both fronts high above the brickwork is a frieze of yellow plaster, and here and elsewhere the sober brown of the brick is relieved with shutters and windows of emerald green. This building, designed by Mr E A Stone, the theatre architect, is the new theatre which in a few days' time will open its doors as the Prince Edward Theatre. When that happens there will be something of a surprise for theatregoers, for the sober exterior gives very little clue to the lavish colour of the interior. It is a large theatre. It seats 1.650 people with stalls, dress circle, and balcony; and it shows the new trend in theatre decoration. Gone are the columns and cornices, supported precariously on brackets and cherubims; and in its stead we have a variety of decorative shapes conjured up in the imagination of the French decorator. The colouring here is jolly and inspiriting in a prevailing theme of Indian red, dull cream and gold - just the thing for a musical comedy. But the amount of dexterity that has gone into the variations in this theme is almost baffling. It would take some little time to notice all the decorative ideas at work. There are, if anything, too many of them, and one would like to see them marshalled into a greater consistency with the other... The planning of the theatre is very good. One enters from the street into a circular foyer lined in walnut and there are circular foyers above and below for the dress circle and stalls respectively. For every part of the house there are handsome buffets and ample retiring rooms, and even with the cheapest seats there is a very good view of the stage, and no unpleasant reminder that they are the cheapest seats. This shows a great advance in theatre design (as distinct from cinema design), and the architect has gone some way to solve that problem in the contour of the theatre ceiling, so that the part above the front stalls is related to the part above the top gallery in a more architectural, and, incidentally, a more democratic way."

The opening production was musical comedy Rio Rita on Thursday 3 April 1930. Written by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson with lyrics by Joseph McCarthy and music by Harry Tierney, the show had previously been staged on Broadway where it had enjoyed a very good 14 month run. Unfortunately in London the show was not so well received by theatregoers and Edgar Wallace was brought in to revise the show. He said that "I saw the show and offered to dramatise and 'humanise' it. My offer was accepted. I am not recasting all the action of the production, but I am bringing out the drama that is somewhat buried under the musical comedy side of it." This revised version opened on Monday 30 April 1930 - when, fresh from their FA Cup win against Huddersfield Town at the weekend, the Arsenal football team turned, with the Cup, to see the show! Despite all this the show closed shortly afterwards on Saturday 24 May 1930. The building, which had been designed as a multi-purpose live stage/film house was immediately equipped with sound film machinery and, from Tuesday 27 May 1930 started to show the film Song o' my Heart starring John McCormack.

Although a range of productions where stage here including musicals, revues, non-stop revues and films, nothing was particularly successful so the theatre was converted into a cabaret-restaurant venue and re-opened on Thursday 2 April 1936 as The London Casino Restaurant (the name was later shortened to just 'London Casino). Following the opening the Times newspaper said that "the theatre has been transformed inside and out, and the result is unlike anything hitherto seen in London. There is a series of low terraces spreading downwards from the dress circle with wide staircases, and the general effect is pleasing with soft lighting and rose colouring. The stage remains, and an American show, Clifford C. Fischer's production, Folies Parisienne was presented last night. There is equipment for sound films, which will be used presently as part of the programme for news films. Two bands under Jack Harris are at either side of the stage and provide music for dancing, which takes place on a semi-circular dance floor in front of the stage. An orchestra of 30 supports the revue." It continued as a revue and restaurant up the building's closure in the Spring of 1940 due to the continuing War.

Two years later it was brought back into use by Francis Douglas, the 11th Marquis of Queensberry, as a club for members of the British and Allied fighting forces and civilians engaged upon essential war work. Named the Queensberry All-Services Club it opened its doors on 19 July 1942 when, apart from staging revues and dances each evening, it also provided members with games rooms, baths, hairdressing and study/writing rooms. The club was self-supporting, primarily through the staging of monthly boxing matches. The Queensberry All-Services Club continued for three-and-a-half years during which time it entertained more than four million men and women of the British and Allied fighting forces, had provided over 2,500 radio broadcast shows and had staged 56 boxing tournaments before finally closing in January 1946.

Ten months later on Monday 14 October 1946 the theatre was brought back into theatrical use with the transfer from the Prince of Wales Theatre of Elsa Shelley's Pick-up Girl, an American play about juvenile delinquency, which run up to Saturday 14 December 1946 to make way for the Christmas pantomime Mother Goose. The building was now called the Casino Theatre and presented a mixture of stage musical, revue style shows and Christmas pantomimes.

During the summer of 1954 'Cinerama' equipment was installed which included a giant curved screen measuring some 70 feet by 30 feet, three projectors and 48 loud speakers. Around 500 seats were removed from the rear of the stalls to make way for the projectors. The opening programme from Thursday 30 September 1954 was This is Cinerama which featured a tour of the canals of Venice, a visit to Niagara Falls, a scene from Aida, a visit to an American funfair, views of Edinburgh Castle and a bull-fight in Madrid - all presented to show off this new technology that promised to 'put you in the picture'.

Cinerama films continued to be shown for nearly twenty years until Wednesday 8 May 1972 after which wide screen films continued to be screened for another four months until live entertainment returned for a Christmas season with the pantomime Cinderella. Opening on 18 December 1972 the pantomime, which starred Twiggy along with Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett from TV's Steptoe and Son, continued up to Saturday 1 February 1975 after which the theatre presented a mixture of films interspersed with live performances and Christmas pantomimes. Most notable during this time was the musical Dean, based on James Dean, which opened on 30 August 1977 but closed early after poor notices on Saturday 1 October 1977.

The name reverted back to the Prince Edward in 1978 when the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita opened on Wednesday 21 June and ran for an amazing seven-and-a-half years until it closed on Saturday 8 February 1986 - a record-breaking run of 3,176 performances, making it this theatre's longest-running show! Other musicals here include Chess and the Broadway revival production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes which was followed by three rather short lived musicals - Some Like It Hot, Children of Eden and The Hunting of the Snark. From late 1992 to early 1993 the theatre was extensively and completely refurbished, reopening on Wednesday 3 March 1993 with the Broadway production of the reworked Gershwin musical Crazy For You which enjoyed a run of just under three years.

List of shows currently playing in London's West End

Architect: Edward A Stone
Opened: 3 April 1930
Listed: ----
Seats: 1,645 on 3 levels
Prince Edward Theatre show archive
Street map
Seating plan

Current Show:

Mary Poppins

Booking up to 13 February 2022