Sondheim Theatre

51 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6BA

About the venue

Originally The Queen's Theatre, the Sondheim Theatre is a popular venue on Shaftesbury Avenue in London's West End. When the theatre opened on 8th October 1907, it was a twin to the Hicks Theatre, now the Gielgud Theatre. Both the theatres followed W. G. R. Sprague's design.

The All-new Sondheim Theatre

In September 1940, a German bomb struck the façade of Sondheim Theatre. This event led to the auditorium's Edwardian interior yet modern exterior, unlike its Twin whose outer appearance has hardly changed. The venue hosted talents like Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Edith Evans, Miranda Richardson, Kenneth Branagh, Alex Guinness, Miranda Richardson, Jane Lapotaire, Nigel Hawthorne, Maggie Smith, and Fiona Shaw. The Queen's Theatre became the Sondheim Theatre in 2019, reopening on 18th December.

Hits at the Sondheim Theatre

Before naming it the Queen's Theatre, the original plan was to call it the Central Theatre. The first production at the theatre was Madeleine Lucette Ryley's comedy The Sugar Bowl. However, the show failed to acquire good reviews and only staged 36 performances. However, the venue received glorious reviews. The good days of the theatre started in 1914 when it staged Montague Glass' Potash and Perlmutter.

The Sondheim Theatre was home to Cameron Mackintosh's production of Les Misérables from April 2004 to July 2019. The musical remained there for 18 years before moving to the neighbouring Palace Theatre. In October 2005, it celebrated its 20th anniversary and surpassed Cats as the longest-running musical of all time a year later. Cameron Mackintosh declared in 2019 that the original Les Misérables production would end on 13th July as the theatre required a thorough restoration. The venue received its new name in honour of lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim.

Among the recent productions at the theatre are The Hobbit by Glyn Robbins (28th November 2001 – 9th February 2002); Mysteries, an adaptation by Speir Opera (26th February 2002 – 18th May 2002); The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien (23rd June 2003 – 5th July 2003), and The RSC's The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare (15th January 2004 – 6th March 2004).

The Shift from Queen's to Sondheim

When the German bomb destroyed the façade and lobby areas, the ongoing production was Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, starring Celia Johnson, Margaret Rutherford, and Owen Nares. The devastation was widespread and shut the auditorium until a £250,000 renovation was carried out by Westwood Sons & Partners two decades later. While the venue retained its Edwardian touch, the exterior and lobbies were rebuilt into what stands today. It reopened with a solo performance of John Gielgud in Shakespearean speeches and sonnets, Ages Of Man. The Sondheim Theatre became a Grade II listed building thanks to English Heritage in 1972. In late 2009, the theatre underwent a major renovation which increased the seating capacity with new seats and boxes set at dress circle level.