Duchess Theatre

Coordinates: 51°30′44″N 0°07′12″W / 51.512222°N 0.12°W / 51.512222; -0.12

The Duchess Theatre is a West End theatre in the City of Westminster, London, located in Catherine Street, near Aldwych.

The theatre opened on 25 November 1929 and is one of the smallest 'proscenium arched' West End theatres. It has 479 seats on two levels.

History

The Duchess theatre was designed by Ewen Barr, and constructed by F. G. Minter Ltd, for Arthur Gibbons. The theatre is built with the stalls below street level, to overcome the scale of the site, and the rights of neighbours to Ancient lights. The theatre opened on 25 November 1929 with a play called Tunnel Trench by Hubert Griffith. The interior decoration scheme was introduced in 1934 under the supervision of Mary Wyndham Lewis, wife of J. B. Priestley.

Notable productions
  • Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, which transferred from the Piccadilly Theatre to the St. James's Theatre before moving to the Duchess Theatre where it completed a record run of 1,997 performances in 1942.
  • Bill Naughton's play Alfie played at the Duchess in 1962. Famously, Lewis Gilbert saw the play and immediately contacted the writer with a view to a screen transfer.
  • Tom Eyen's The Dirtiest Show in Town, which ran for just under 800 performances in the 1970s
  • In December 1974 Oh Calcutta, transferred to the Duchess Theatre from the Royalty Theatre. Oh! Calcutta! remained at the Duchess until 1980.
  • The Players' Theatre Company presented their Late Joys Victorian Music hall programme between 1987 and 1990
  • Marc Camoletti's Don't Dress For Dinner which transferred to the Duchess from the Apollo Theatre in October 1992 and stayed until 1 March 1997.
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company's The Herbal Bed by Peter Whelan which ran for six months from April to October 1997.
Production history
  • 1929 Opened on 25 November with Tunnel Trench, a play featuring Emlyn Williams in the cast.
  • 1930 The Duchess hosted the shortest run in West End history when The Intimate Revue closed without completing its first performance.
  • 1932 Frank Vosper starred as King Henry VII in The Rose Without a Thorn and Jessica Tandy appeared in Children in Uniform.
  • 1933 J B Priestley’s Laburnum Grove.
  • 1934 J B Priestley joined the management of the theatre, producing his own play Eden End with Ralph Richardson.
  • 1935 Cornelius, again by Priestley and starring Richardson, and the psychological thriller Night Must Fall with Emlyn Williams as both author and star.
  • 1936 Murder in the Cathedral by T S Eliot.
  • 1937 Time and the Conways, again by Priestley.
  • 1938 Emlyn Williams’s The Corn is Green, starring the author and Sybil Thorndike, was playing at the time of compulsory closure due to the outbreak of war.
  • 1939 The Playboy of the Western World.
  • 1942 Skylark with John Clements and Constance Cummings. Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, with Margaret Rutherford, transferred from the Piccadilly Theatre to complete a run of 1,997 performances.
  • 1947 Priestley’s The Linden Tree with Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike played 400 performances.
  • 1948 Angela Baddeley in a revival of Eden End.
  • 1949 Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndike were re-united in The Foolish Gentlewoman.
  • 1950 The Holly and the Ivy featured Bryan Forbes.
  • 1951 Thora Hird and Dandy Nichols in Happy Family.
  • 1952 Kenneth More and Peggy Ashcroft in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea.
  • 1955 The scandalous affair of Mr. Kettle and Mrs. Moon, a comedy in 3 acts by J. B. Priestley.
  • 1958 The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie.
  • 1960 Harold Pinter’s first West End success The Caretaker with Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates.
  • 1961 Impresario Peter Saunders acquired the lease, coinciding with a transfer of Good Night Mrs. Puffin.
  • 1962 Rule of Three by Agatha Christie.
  • 1963 Bill Naughton’s Alfie and the return of Sybil Thorndike in William Douglas-Home’s The Reluctant Peer.
  • 1965 The long-running Boeing Boeing transferred from the Apollo.
  • 1967 Wait Until Dark.
  • 1969 The musical Dames at Sea and The Old Ladies starring Joyce Carey, Joan Miller and Flora Robson.
  • 1970 Diana Dors in Three Months Gone.
  • 1971 The Dirtiest Show in Town.
  • 1973 Rattigan’s In Praise of Love.
  • 1974 Oh Calcutta! transferred from the Royalty and remained in residence until 1980 with a total of 3,918 performances.
  • 1980 Maria Aitken and Michael Jayston in a revival of Coward’s Private Lives.
  • 1984 Snoopy!!! The Musical with Teddy Kempner and Susie Blake.
  • 1985 Dorothy Tutin and Colin Blakeley in a trio of Pinter plays called collectively Other Places.
  • 1986 The freehold of the theatre was acquired by Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd, presenting George Cole in A Month of Sundays followed by a transfer from the Garrick of the long-running comedy No Sex Please, We're British.
  • 1987 The Players Theatre took up residence for two and a half years while their new theatre in Villiers Street was under construction.
  • 1990 Ray Cooney’s long-running farce Run for Your Wife transferred to complete its nine-year West End run.
  • 1991 An Evening with Gary Lineker by Chris England and Arthur Smith.
  • 1992 Don’t Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti transferred from the Apollo and kept audiences happy for a further four and a half years.
  • 1997 Maureen Lipman’s one-woman show Live and Kidding was followed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Peter Whelan’s The Herbal Bed and the comedy who-dunnit Scissor Happy.
  • 1998 Michael Williams starred as John Aubrey in the one-man play Brief Lives, Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon played for ten weeks in the RSC’s The Unexpected Man and Michael Codron and Lee Dean transferred their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Things We Do for Love from the Gielgud.
  • 1999 The National Theatre’s production of Copenhagen by Michael Frayn opened with its original cast of Sara Kestelman, David Burke and Matthew Marsh.
  • 2000 In January the Duchess became a Really Useful Theatre when Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Group and Bridgepoint Capital purchased Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd.
  • 2001 The auditorium was transformed to recreate the Cottesloe in the round layout for Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, with Bill Nighy and the original National Theatre cast. This was followed by the Irish comedy Alone it Stands.
  • 2002 Life After George with Stephen Dillane. The Glee Club and David Hare returned to the West End with Via Dolorosa prior to the opening of Alan Ayckbourn’s Damsels in Distress.
  • 2003 The year started with Gyles Brandreth’s Zipp! Through the Leaves and Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.
  • 2004 Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone. Coyote on a Fence and Novel Theatre Company’s adaptation of Little Women.
  • 2005 David Suchet in Man and Boy by Terence Rattigan, The Birthday Party revived with Eileen Atkins and Henry Goodman and Maureen Lipman in Glorious by Peter Quilter.
  • 2007 Underneath the Lintel with Richard Schiff
  • 2007 The musical Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story.
  • 2009 Plague Over England, with Michael Feast and Celia Imrie.
  • 2009 Collaboration and Taking Sides, with Michael Pennington and David Horowitz.
  • 2009 Endgame, with Mark Rylance, Simon McBurney, Miriam Margolyes and Tom Hickey.
  • 2010 Morecambe, starring Bob Golding.
  • 2010 Ghosts, starring Lesley Sharp.
  • 2010 The Fantasticks
  • 2010 Krapp's Last Tape starring Michael Gambon
  • 2011 Simon Gray's Butley starring Dominic West and Paul McGann

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com