Aldwych Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • A theater in the West End of London known for its productionsof both farces and Shakespeare. It was built as one of a pair withthe Waldorf Theatre (subsequently the Strand Theatre, now the Ivor Novello)when slums were cleared away for two new roads, The Aldwych and Kingsway,in 1905. The 1089-seat theater opened with the musical Bluebell inFairyland, written by and starring Seymour Hicks, one of the theater'sowners.

    In 1911 the Aldwych saw the first English performance of aChekhov play, The Cherry Orchard, while during World War Iit was converted into a club for Australian servicemen. The firstof Ben Travers's famous Aldwych farces, A Cuckooin the Nest, was presented in 1925. The series, which also includedRookery Nook (1926) and Thark (1927), featured a regularcast headed by Robertson Hare, Mary Brough, Tom Walls, and Ralph Lynn.Other successes included Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine(1942) and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (1949),with Vivien Leigh.

    As the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Companyfrom 1960 to 1982, the Aldwych staged such celebrated productionsas Peter Brook's Marat/Sade (1964) and A Midsummer Night'sDream (1970) as well as the eight-and-a-half-hour NicholasNickleby (1980). The Aldwych also played host to the annual WorldTheatre Season from 1964 until 1973. The Aldwych has also seentwo particularly disastrous productions. William Douglas Home's AmbassadorExtraordinary (1948), about a visiting Martian, provoked boosfrom the gallery. Referring to the play's anti-Cold War message, Homemade the startling prediction that "if they don't learn thelesson of compromise taught tonight [in his play], in six month'stime that gallery won't be here". The gallery was still there30 years later when the RSC's production of Steve Gooch's The Women-Piraces:Ann Bonney and Mary Read (1978) was loudly booed and garneredsuch reviews as "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of twaddle". Itclosed after 19 performances.

    Now under US ownership, the Aldwych has enjoyed success with TomStoppard's Hapgood (1988), acclaimed revivals of Priestley's AnInspector Calls (1992) and Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?(1996), and the film-based musicals Fame (2002) and Dirty Dancing(since 2006).

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