The Playhouse Theatre, located in the City of Westminster, is one of the famous theatrical venues in London’s West End. It is located near Trafalgar Square on Northumberland Avenue.
Built by F. H. Howler and Hill, the theatre initially featured 1,200 seats. However, after undergoing refurbishment in 1907, the seating capacity decreased. The Grade II listed building highlights a spectacular exterior that gently curves into Craven Street. The interiors are vividly designed; it has a set of striking paintings, a flowery safety curtain and horse-skull-shaped lights. Currently, it offers 786 seats spread across three levels. Ambassador Theatre Group owns and operates the venue.
Sefton Henry Parry built the Playhouse Theatre, and it first opened on 11th March 1882 as The Royal Avenue Theatre with a revival of Jacques Offenbach’s Madame Favart. In its initial days, the venue hosted burlesques, comic operas and farces for many years. The prefix “Royal” was removed, making it the Avenue Theatre, but continued playing its genre of shows. However, it caught up with the trend and diverted its attention towards more serious theatre in the early 1890s.
In 1894, Miss Horniman anonymously sponsored the actress Florence Farr in a series of shows, but the first production could not succeed. This event led Farr to persuade a friend of hers to finish his first West End production—Arms And The Man. Her friend was none other than the legendary George Bernard Shaw, who wrote the first play specifically for the Avenue. The play became an instant success, and Shaw started to focus on writing more plays. The theatre began to become even more popular with the inclusion of popular works by W. Somerset Maugham, Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and Chekhov.
In 1905, Blow and Billerey designed and rebuilt the theatre. Unfortunately, there was an accident, and a part of the nearby Charing Cross railway station collapsed; however, the venue reopened on 28th January 1907 with a new name – The Playhouse Theatre! Following its reopening, many famous personalities and companies graced the venue including WS Gilbert, actress-manager Gladys Cooper, Janet McTeer, The Peter Hall Company, The Almeida Theatre Company, and the BBC.
Fun Fact: Despite facing extensive renovations, the theatre retains its original substage machinery.
The Playhouse Theatre has hosted many great shows in the last two decades. Among them were Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” (3rd April – 29th June 2003), a Russian play, translated by Christopher Hampton and starring Kristin Scott Thomas; James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (8th June – 3rd September 2005), an adaptation by Andrew Rattenbury starring Van Kilmer; My Name Is Rachel Corrie (30th March – 21st May 2006) by Katherine Vilner and Alan Rickman which starred Megan Dodds; The Rocky Horror Show (4th July – 22nd July 2006) by Richard O’Brien, starring Suzanne Shaw and David Bedella.