The Novello Theatre: A Potted History

Thursday 21 June 2012

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It may or may not be a record but the Novello Theatre has had a fair few names changes.  Most of them taking place during its first few years.  When it opened in 1905 it was named the Waldorf Theatre, but just four years later in 1909 it became the Strand Theatre.  That would only last for 2 years until 1911 as it became the Whitney Theatre, but lo and behold two years later in 1913 it was back to being the Strand Theatre.  A name it would keep for the next 92 years until 2005 when it got it's current name the Novello Theatre.

This was done in recognition of Ivor Novello who lived in Flat 4, The Aldwych, over the theatre for 38 years, between 1913 and 1951, and wrote many of his most memorable musicals there, as part of the theatre's 100th year anniversary when it underwent a huge refurbishment.  The Theatre has an Ivor Bar and much memorabilia from the life of Ivor Novello.

Ivor Novello was a composer, actor and playwright born in Cardiff on 15th January 1893, who died aged 58 in 1951. He was a huge presence British musicals and kept alive the British musical during the time American writers and composers started to have more and more influence. 

His first big hit was "Keep the Home Fires Burning" written during the First World War, which proved to be enormously popular.  The first show he had success with composing for was Theodore & Co in 1916 alongside american Jerome Kern.  He continued to have success writing for musical comedies and revues after the war but it wouldn't be long before his face made him a matinee idol on the big screen making his film debut in silent film The Call of the Blood in 1920.  He made his stage debut in Deburau in 1921.

The roaring 20's would prove to be a busy time for Novello as he moved into American movies in 1923 with The White Rose, co-wrote, produced and starred in his own play, The Rat, which later got made into a film and spawned two successful sequals.  Mixing film roles such as Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger with stage roles kept him busy.  He would make his last silent movie, A South Sea Bubble in 1928.  The year 1929 saw him take on Broadway with his play, Symphony in Two Flats and The Truth Game.

With no real success in Hollywood, he returned to the UK and so began the golden age of Ivor Novello.  Between 1930 to 1934 he would write 6 non musical plays and then returned to composing in 1935 for Glamourous Night.  He would write and star in 4 musicals before the outbreak of World War 2.  After the huge success of his 1945 musical Perchance to Dream which ran for 1,022 performances, Novello's last musical came in 1949 inwhich he starred was King's Rhapsody.  It was an old fashioned fantasy musical that appealed to the public after the war still under rationing and ran for 841 peformances.  It would be Novello's last appearance due to his sudden death a few hours after the show.

Since  his death the Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting has been established, which are awarded each year by the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers (BASCA) to British songwriters and composers as well as to an outstanding international music writer.

The next time you are visiting the Novello Theatre take time to look around at the many pieces that are displayed in memory of one of Britain's most successful composers of the 20th Century.

Currently playing at the Novello Theatre is Michael Frayn's classic farce Noises Off, which resides there until 30th June.

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