Theatre Royal Stratford East

Coordinates: 51°32′34″N 0°00′03″E / 51.542730°N 0.000800°E / 51.542730; 0.000800

The Theatre Royal Stratford East is a theatre in Stratford in the London Borough of Newham. Since 1953, it has been the home of the Theatre Workshop company.


The theatre was built on the site of a wheelwright's shop at the junction of Salway Road and Angel Lane, designed by architect James George Buckle, who was commissioned by the actor-manager Charles Dillon (formerly Silver, the son of Charles Dillon) in 1884. It opened on 17 December 1884 with a revival of Richelieu by Bulwer-Lytton. Two years later, Dillon sold it to Albert O'Leary Fredericks, his sister's brother-in-law and one of the original backers of the scheme. Side extensions were added in 1887, and the stage enlarged in 1891, by the original architect. In 1902, Frank Matcham undertook minor improvements to the entrance and foyer. The Fredericks family continued to manage the theatre until 1932, although after the World War I, the theatre fell into financial difficulties, opening only irregularly after 1926.

About 1950, a touring company presented the Christmas pantomime, Alice in Wonderland. The company were to return, as the Theatre Workshop in 1953, with artistic director Joan Littlewood and take over the theatre.

The theatre came under threat with the construction of the Stratford shopping centre in the 1970s, but was saved by a public campaign and protected in June 1972 by English Heritage with a Grade II* listing. Money remained short, and the manager, Gerry Raffles only managed redecoration and replacements as cash became available. In 1984, the front of house was refurbished and in 2001, following a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid, it completed the redevelopment of all of its front of house and backstage areas as part of a project to create the Stratford Cultural Quarter.

In 2005 the Theatre Royal Stratford East made history by having the first British Black musical to transfer to London's West End, where it played at the Apollo Theatre. Recently the theatre produced a musical version of the cult Jamaican film The Harder They Come. This production was written by the film director Perry Henzel and was one of the most successful productions in the theatre's history.

In June 2011, Olympic news outlet Around the Rings reported that the Nigeria Olympic Committee had chosen Theatre Royal Stratford East as its hospitality house for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Artistic directors
Joan Littlewood (1953-1979)

The Theatre Royal became famous under the management of Gerry Raffles (1928–1975), who worked with director Joan Littlewood on such productions as A Taste of Honey and Oh! What a Lovely War. In 1975, her collaborator and partner, Gerry Raffles died of diabetes, and in 1979, a devastated Joan Littlewood moved to France, never to direct again.

Clare Venables (1979-1982)

Clare Venables took over as Artistic Director in 1979 and remained for two and a half years.

Philip Hedley (1979-2004)

Philip Hedley had worked as an assistant to Joan Littlewood for some years, but took over the artistic directorship of the theatre from Clare Venables in 1979. He ran the theatre in the hope of rekindling the golden era it had experienced with Joan Littlewood in her prime. After a difficult first couple of years, he found his feet as Artistic Director and began to put his own personal stamp on the style in which it was run. Like Joan Littlewood, Philip Hedley was very keen to see local people using the theatre on a regular basis. To that end he not only provided traditional entertainment in style of old music hall variety shows on Sunday evenings for the traditional 'eastenders' (the ones before the soap of the same name) but also looked to engage with new Asian and Black audiences, as the local demographic changed. The theatre continued Littlewood's agenda to portray and express the experience of local people in East London.

In 1999, he began the Musical Theatre Initiatives scheme to encourage new writing in musical theatre. In 2004, after 25 years as artistic director, he retired.

Kerry Michael (2004-continues)

Kerry Michael joined Stratford East in 1997, as an associate director. He became director in September 2004. His manifesto is to bring London's new communities to the stage, and portray their experiences as second and third generation emigrants.

  • Coren, Michael - Theatre Royal: 100 Years of Stratford East - Quartet, 1984 ISBN 0-7043-2474-1

Building Activity

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