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The Novello Theatre

Friday 23 September 2011

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The Novello Theatre in London has had a long, triumphant and sometimes disastrous history. Opening on 22 May 1905, It was designed by renowned architect W.G.R Sprague who designed no less than 33 new theatres in his impressive 40 year career. The Novello Theatre, originally known as the Waldorf Theatre, was part of a major re-development taking place in this part of London and Sprague was also the architect for the Novello's twin, The Aldwych Theatre, which is located on the other end of the block. Nestled in-between was the Waldorf Hotel.

Over the years the Novello Theatre has had many name changes. It was renamed The Strand Theatre in 1909, just 4 years after it's opening, then renamed to The Whitney Theatre just 2 years later in 1911, then back to The Strand Theatre 2 years later in 1913. It kept this name for 92 years until current owners, Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, changed it to The Novello Theatre which it has kept to this day. This change was in honour of composer, actor and darling of the times, Ivor Novello who lived in a flat above the theatre from 1913 to 1951.

On 13 October 1915 the entrance to the theatre pit was bombed during a heavy raid when 19 bombs fell on the Strand. The performance that night was The Scarlet of Pimpernel and in spite of the destruction going on, the audience was managed to be calmed and the show went on.

Disaster struck again in 1940 when the theatre was bombed once again during the Blitz in 1940. However in true theatrical style the show went on once again and lunchtime Shakespeare performances were given with the artists picking their way to the stage over the rubble. Triumph was soon to come when a new comedy by Joseph Kesselring called Arsenic and Old Lace opened in December 1942, breaking all records for the longest run with 1337 performances and on June 3, 1943 the Royal Family attended the play. It was the first time the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been allowed to go to an evening performance in the West End.

The Theatre was closed on 28 May 2005 to undergo a major £3.25 million refurbishment programme to restore it to its former glory. When the theatre reopened in 2005 it was finally named the Novello Theatre with a capacity of 1067 seats over four levels.

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