The Playhouse Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster, located in Northumberland Avenue, near Trafalgar Square. The Theatre was built by F. H. Fowler and Hill with a seating capacity of 1,200. It was rebuilt in 1907 and still retains its original substage machinery. Its current seating capacity is 786.
Built by Sefton Henry Parry as the Royal Avenue Theatre, it opened on 11 March 1882 with 679 seats. The first production at the theatre was Jacques Offenbach's Madame Favart. In its early seasons, the theatre hosted comic operas, burlesques and farces for several years. For much of this time, the low comedian, Arthur Roberts, a popular star of the music halls, starred at the theatre. By the 1890s, the theatre was presenting drama, and in 1894 Annie Horniman, the tea heiress, anonymously sponsored the actress Florence Farr in a season of plays at the theatre. Farr's first production was unsuccessful, and so she prevailed upon her friend, George Bernard Shaw to hurry and make his West End début at the theatre with Arms and the Man in 1894. It was successful enough to allow him to discontinue music criticism to focus full-time on play writing. The legendary actress manager Gladys Cooper ran the theatre for some years.
The theatre was rebuilt in 1905 to the designs of Blow and Billerey. During the work, part of the roof of the adjacent Charing Cross railway station collapsed. The roof and girders fell across the train lines but part of the station western wall also fell and crashed through the roof and wall of the theatre. This resulted in the deaths of three people in the station, and three workmen on the theatre site and injuries to many more. The theatre was repaired and re-opened as The Playhouse on 28 January 1907 with a one-act play called The Drums of Oudh and a play called Toddles, by Tristan Bernard and Andre Godferneaux. The new theatre had a smaller seating capacity of 679. W. Somerset Maugham's Home and Beauty premièred at the Playhouse on 30 August 1919, running for 235 performances, and Henry Daniell appeared here in February 1926 as the Prince of Karaslavia in Mr. Abdulla. Nigel Bruce appeared in February 1927 as Robert Crosbie in Somerset Maugham's The Letter, and again in May 1930 as Robert Brennan in Dishonoured Lady. Alec Guinness made his stage début here in Ward Dorane's play Libel! on 2 April 1934. Daniell returned in November that year as Paul Miller in Hurricane.
In 1951 it was taken over by the BBC as a recording studio for live performances. The Goon Show and the radio versions of Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son were recorded here, although at least the first two shows were also recorded at other venues during their runs. The stage also hosted live performances by KISS, Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. On 3 April 1967, a live Pink Floyd concert was broadcast from the theatre.
When the BBC left around 1976, the theatre went dark and was in danger of demolition.
1987 return to theatre usage
The theatre was restored to its 1907 design by impresario Robin Gonshaw, opening again in October 1987 with the musical Girlfriends. A commercial building, Aria House, was erected above the theatre.
In 1988, novelist and politician Jeffrey Archer bought the Playhouse for just over £1 million. The following year, the theatre was offered commercial sponsorship by a financial services' company, and for a while it was known as the MI Group Playhouse. In 1991, the Playhouse became home to the Peter Hall Company, and a number of critically and commercially successful plays were performed there, including Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo (1991), starring Julie Walters and Moliere's Tartuffe (1991), starring Paul Eddington and Felicity Kendal. Around this time the basement bar area of the theatre was converted into a private restaurant, Shaws, but the enterprise was unsuccessful and the space was later converted back into a bar/cafe.
In 1992, Archer sold the Playhouse to the writer and impresario Ray Cooney for just over £2 million. That year Cooney staged the West End premiere of his latest farce It Runs in the Family at the Playhouse. This was followed by Jane Eyre (1993), adapted by Fay Weldon and starring Tim Pigott-Smith; Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval, (1994), starring Simon Ward, Martin Jarvis and Anna Carteret; and Ray Cooney's Funny Money in 1995.
In 1996, Cooney sold the Playhouse to American investment banker Patrick Sulaiman Cole, whose first production was a critically acclaimed revival of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House in 1996, directed by Anthony Page and starring Janet McTeer. Later that year, the theatre was closed for complete refurbishment under the direction of English Heritage, with the auditorium luxuriously decorated, with grandiose murals, caryatids, golden pillars, carved balustrades, and shining gold decoration. It reopened in 1997 with Sulaiman Cole's production and the West End première of Anton Chekhov's The Wood Demon. This was followed by Sulaiman Cole's production of a first ever West End Snoo Wilson premiere, "HRH", directed by Simon Callow, about the British Royal Family's Duke and Duchess of Windsor, which opened the day after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The play was harshly reviewed as anti-Royal. The theatre returned to life as a commercial receiving house with several seasons of Almeida Theatre and Cheek by Jowl productions, including the popular but critically panned premiere of David Hare's The Judas Kiss.
American theatrical producers Ted and Norman Tulchin's Maidstone Productions purchased the theatre at the end of 2002, with the venue managed by the Ambassador Theatre Group. The Playhouse hosted Richard Eyre's 2003 Olivier Award-winning production of Vincent in Brixton, starring Clare Higgins; Eyre's 2005 production of Hedda Gabler, starring Eve Best; and Megan Dodds in a transfer of My Name Is Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner in 2006.
More recent successes include the musical Dancing in the Streets, The Adventures of Tintin based on the famous comic-book detective, The Harder They Come, and La Cage Aux Folles.
In December 2013, ATG had acquired 100 percent ownership of the Playhouse.
Recent and present productions
- Three Sisters (3 April – 29 June 2003) by Anton Chekhov, translated by Christopher Hampton, starring Kristin Scott Thomas
- Vincent in Brixton (19 July – 23 August 2003) by Nicholas Wright
- Les Liaisons Dangereuses (12 December 2003 – 10 January 2004) by Christopher Hampton
- Journey's End (3 May – 2 October 2004) by R.C. Sherriff
- Romeo and Juliet (18 November 2004 – 9 January 2005) by William Shakespeare
- The RSC: House of Desires (1 February – 21 March 2005) by Sor Juana de la Cruz
- The RSC: Dog in the Manger (2 February – 26 March 2005) by Lope de Vega, translated by David Johnston
- The RSC: Pedro, The Great Pretender (17 February – 12 March 2005) by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Philip Osment
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (8 June – 3 September 2005) by James M. Cain adapted by Andrew Rattenbury, starring Val Kilmer
- As You Desire Me (27 October 2005 – 22 January 2006) by Luigi Pirandello, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins
- The Creeper (9 February – 18 March 2006) by Pauline Macaulay, starring Ian Richardson
- My Name is Rachel Corrie (30 March – 21 May 2006) by Alan Rickman and Katherine Vilner, starring Megan Dodds
- The Rocky Horror Show (4–22 July 2006) by Richard O'Brien, starring David Bedella and Suzanne Shaw
- Dancing in the Streets (1 August 2006 – 14 July 2007)
- Footloose – The Musical (17 August - 6 December 2007)
- The Adventures of Tintin (9 December 2007 – 12 January 2008), adapted from Hergé's novels
- Ring Round the Moon (19 February – 29 March 2008) by Christopher Fry, adapted from Jean Anouilh's L'Invitation au Château, directed by Sean Mathias, starring Angela Thorne
- The Harder They Come (23 March – 13 September 2008) by Perry Henzel
- La Cage aux Folles (20 October 2008 – 2 January 2010) by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, starring Roger Allam, Douglas Hodge, Graham Norton and Philip Quast
- Dreamboats and Petticoats (6 January 2010 - 4 August 2012 )
- Monty Python's Spamalot (14 November 2012 - 22 February 2014)
- List of London theatres
- List of West End musicals
- List of notable musical theatre productions
- Musical theatre
- O'Donnell v Shanahan  EWCA Civ 751, a legal case in UK company law concerning the fifth floor above the theatre
- Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 131 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
- Who's Who in the Theatre, edited by John Parker, 10th edition revised, London, 1947.
- Playhouse Theatre history and images at the Arthur Lloyd site