The Gielgud Theatre - the West End's underrated treasure

Posted on 20 June 2012

Nestled between the Apollo Theatre and the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, the Gielgud Theatre has been housing fantastic theatre for over a century.   The four storey building towers majestically over Shaftesbury Avenue with its height all the more emphasised by the turret at its peak.   The interior sports sumptuous Baroque ornamentation and beautifully decorated columns supporting its boxes.    Restoration work on the outside of the theatre began in 2007 by the Delfont Mackintosh Group who took over ownership from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group a year earlier.    Interior work was finally completed in January 2008.   The theatre originally seated 970, although over the years the removal of some boxes and other seating have reduced this number to 889.    The recent restoration work included reinstating the boxes at the back of the Dress Circle.

The Gielgud opened in December 1906 as the Hicks Theatre, named after the actor, manager and playwright Seymour Hicks.   The theatre is paired with the Queens Theatre which is on the adjacent corner and opened shortly afterwards in 1907.    Renamed the Globe Theatre in 1909 it was known as that for most of its life until 1994 when it was renamed the Gielgud Theatre in honour of esteemed British actor John Gielgud, and taking into account the impending reconstruction of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the South Bank.   The venue's longest running show is Denise Deegan's fabulously gung-ho comedy Daisy Pulls It Off, which tells the story of an inquisitive and intrepid boarding-schoolgirl who is determined to seek out the school's hidden treasure to save it from ruin.    The show managed 1180 performances after it opened in 1983.   The previous longest runner was 1064 outings for Terence Frisbys There's A Girl In My Soup in 1966.

The theatre has suffered its share of hits and misses much like any other, but notable recent productions include 2004's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with Christian Slater, Frances Barber and Mackenzie Crook.   The revival was extremely well received and garnered glowing revues across the board for its cast.   The RSC's limited run of The Crucible in 2006 fast became a sellout, with Iain Glen as the tormented John Proctor.    British heartthrob Daniel Radcliffe caused waves by appearing fully naked in the 2007 revival of Equus at the Gielgud.   The seventeen-year-old Harry Potter actor was fast becoming a star in his own right and his high profile brought great press interest even though many actors before him had appeared nude in the same role.   The show was a hit and eventually transferred along with Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths to Broadway, where Radcliffe picked up a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Play.

The musical that refused to die, the high-octane and foul-mouthed puppet play Avenue Q enjoyed a short tenure at the theatre in 2009.   It had previously enjoyed 1179 performances at the Noel Coward Theatre where it had opened in 2006, and following its 327 showings at the Gielgud it moved on to the Wyndhams for its final seven months.    A second UK-touring version of the show began earlier this year.   The theatre's current production is a stage production of Chariots Of Fire, based on the hit 1981 film of the same name.   Perfect fare in the build up to this year's  Olympics it tells the extraordinary true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams and is set around the 1924 Paris Olympic Games.  The show is booking at the Gielgud Theatre until 10th November.