Fortune Theatre

Definition

Theater

  • (1) A popular Elizabethan theater in Cripplegate, London. Itwas modelled on the Globe Theatre, and took its name froma statue of the goddess of fortune that stood over the entrance. Itopened in 1600 with a performance by the Admiral's Men, whosehome it was for several years. Timber-built and brightly painted inside,it is the only Elizabethan playhouse whose dimensions are known (becauseits building contract has survived). The Fortune's site was 80 sqft (24.4 sq m) and the inner space was 55 sq ft (16.8 sq m) with thestage being 43 ft (13 m) wide.

    The first Fortune burned down in 1621 but reopened two yearslater, having been rebuilt in brick. After the theaters were closedby the Puritans in 1642 (see the Interregnum), the Fortunewas one of several venues used for illegal performances; it was partially dismantled by Commonwealth soldiers in 1649. In 1661 it was totallydemolished.

    (2) The first London theater constructed after World War I. Itwas opened by Laurence Cowen in 1924 in Russell Street, Covent Garden,on the site of the Albion Tavern, which had been frequented by actorsin Georgian and Victorian times. Cowen took the name from the ElizabethanFortune Theatre in Cripplegate.

    During its first decade, the Fortune presented works by O'Casey,Galsworthy, and Lonsdale. After World War II, the theater specializedin revue with Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure (1954),At the drop of a Hat (1957), and the highly successful Beyondthe Fringe (1961).

    Subsequent successes included Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth(1973), a revival of Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage(1976), and The Brothers Karamazov (1981). By contrast, an attemptto present plays from provincial and fringe theaters in the early 1980s provedfinancially disastrous. In 1989 The Woman in Black, a supernaturalchiller adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill's novel, opened at theFortune; it is still running over 20 years later.

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