Gate Theatre Studio
The history of London's Gate Theatre Studio, often referred to as simply the Gate Theatre, is typical of many small independent theatres of the period.
Founded in October 1925 by Peter Godfrey and his wife Molly Veness, the theatre was originally on the top floor of a ramshackle warehouse at 38 Floral Street, Covent Garden. Then known as the Gate Theatre Salon (The Gate to Better Things), it could hold an audience of 96, and opened on 30 October 1925 with Godfrey's production of Susan Glaspell's Berenice, starring Veness as Margaret, 'the searcher for truth', and which ran for a fortnight.
With a series of challenging productions, including August Strindberg's The Dance of Death, the Gate struggled to survive without attracting any particular attention, until the Sunday Times critic James Agate, enthusiastically reviewing Georg Kaiser's From Morn to Midnight, urged his readers to apply for membership of the theatre and to go and see the production. But at the end of a scheduled three-week run the play was transferred to the Regent Theatre in King's Cross when Claude Rains took over the leading role from Godfrey.
In March 1927 the Gate Theatre Salon closed and the company moved to a site at 16A Villiers Street, 'underneath the arches' and close to Charing Cross Station. The new Gate Theatre Studio was constructed from a complex of premises acquired by Carlo Gatti and which included Gatti's Underneath the Arches Musical Hall (now the Players' Theatre). But with reconstruction delays the first two productions of the third season were given at the Rudolf Steiner Hall, and it was not until 22 November 1927 that the newly named Gate Theatre Studio opened with Maya, a play by Simon Gantillon, with Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies in the lead, again produced by Godfrey and receiving 53 performances.
By 1934, Godfrey, a man grown tired of shouldering the burden of the theatre, handed it over to a new company formed by Norman Marshall, who took over and refurbished the Gate Theatre Studio, reviving the theatre’s reputation, often financing his productions with highly successful theatrical revues.
Productions, several of which transferred to the West End following censorship troubles with the Lord Chamberlain, included Oscar Wilde's Salome (1931), Laurence Houseman's Victoria Regina (1935), Elsie Schauffler's Parnell (1936), Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour (1936), John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1939) and Reginald Beckwith's Boys in Brown (1940). In 1936 the young Robert Morley, played the lead in the Stokes brothers' Oscar Wilde and later took the play to Broadway.
In the 1930s The Gate Theatre Studio was one of a number of small, committed, independent theatre companies which included the Hampstead Everyman, the Arts Theatre Club and Q Theatre at Kew Bridge. These theatres were able to avoid the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship by operating as theatre clubs, where membership was obligatory, and took risks by producing new and experimental plays, or plays by unknown or commercially unviable writers. Norman Marshall refers to these as ‘The Other Theatre’ in his 1947 book of the same name.
The Gate Revues, several starring Hermione Gingold who made her first professional appearance at the Gate, restored intimate revue to favour in the West End. But following serious bomb damage in 1941 (the same air raid that destroyed the Little Theatre in the Adelphi), the theatre was finally forced to close. The theatre was never to re-open although, according to Norman Marshall, the manpower and material needed to resuscitate it would have been very small.
The spirit of the Gate Theatre Studio was taken up in 1979 by the new Gate Theatre, a London fringe theatre above a pub, which may draw its name from its location in Notting Hill Gate, but shares its innovative inspiration with the past.
- Philip Godfrey, Back Stage, George Harrap, London, 1933.
- Norman Marshall, The Other Theatre, John Lehmann, London, 1947.
- Norman Marshall, The Producer and the Play, Macdonald, London, 1957.
- Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson The Lost Theatres of London], Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968; revised and re-issued by the New English Library, 1976 ISBN 450028380