Princes ( now "Shaftesbury") Theatre

Camden / London

from Wikipedia

The Theatre was designed for the Melville Brothers by Bertie Crewe and opened on 26 December 1911 with a production of The Three Musketeers.
It was originally named the New Prince's Theatre, becoming the Prince's Theatre in 1914. The original capacity of the auditorium is unknown,
but with standing room in the Stalls it is possible that over 3000 people were able to attend performances. The current capacity is between
1300 and 1400. The Prince's was the last theatre to be built in Shaftesbury Avenue, and is located on the junction between Shaftesbury Avenue
and High Holborn. During the First World War, the Prince’s advertised itself as ‘The Laughter House where you can forget the War.’

In September 1919, the Theatre had considerable success with a season of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, presented by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
The success of these revivals led to a number of similar seasons over the next few decades, with the Theatre selling out every time.
Other productions during this time included The Return of Sherlock Holmes starring Eille Norwood and a season of classical plays,
including Medea and Macbeth, starring Sybil Thorndike. In 1928, Fred and Adele Astaire starred in Funny Face with Leslie Henson.
The musical was a great success, but was cut short by a gas explosion on High Holborn outside the Theatre.

Despite heavy bombing in the West End, and several periods of forced closure, the Shaftesbury was able to continue a programme of shows
during the Second World War. Many of these were presented by and named for Firth Shepherd, such as Shepherd’s Pie. Shepherd’s Pie was a
comedic and musical revue of the kind that was popular in London theatres during the war, and was heralded as one of the most successful of its kind.

In 1948, Jack Hylton presented Burlesque starring Majorie Reynolds at the Princes. Hylton was also the producer for Buoyant Billions (1949),
a play written by George Bernard Shaw when he was 93. In 1953, Hylton and Sam Wannamaker presented The Shrike by Joseph Kramm, and in 1955
Pat Kirkwood appeared at the theatre in Wonderful Town.

After a period of years presenting plays and musicals at the Shaftesbury, Hylton was reported to have bought the Theatre in 1961,
but this was later corrected in the press. Hylton had been the lessee of the Theatre in June 1961 and had negotiated the sale of the building
to Television Wales and West. Two months later, TWW sold it on to Charles Clore and EMI.

The programme in the 1960s under the ownership of EMI included a number of long running musicals, such as Broadway transfer
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1963) and Our Man Crichton (1964), based on a book by JM Barrie.
The Theatre experienced a much less successful run with Lionel Bart’s Twang!! – a musical based on the story of Robin Hood which was plagued
with creative and financial issues. Twang!! starred Ronnie Corbett and Barbara Windsor, and ran at the Shaftesbury for only a few weeks
between December 1965 and January 1966. It was one of the most expensive musicals that had ever been produced.

The external facades of the Theatre were renovated in 2010, and the original Edwardian canopy was uncovered and restored. In 2013 there was
a project to lay the foundations and support structure for a new fly tower, construction of which was completed during the run of Memphis
without disruption to the show’s performance schedule. The new fly tower tripled the existing loading capacity in order to make the building
fit for the technical demands of modern productions. The project garnered five major awards including from a National RIBA award and a
Civic Trust award. The Shaftesbury Theatre is currently undergoing extensive renovations to improve the public areas of the building.
This project is occurring in conjunction with Camden’s West End Project, which will include the pedestrianisation of the
Princes Circus area immediately outside the theatre.

Programs available from this theatre:

  • Pal Joey / London (1954)

    Return to Index of Theatres