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Harold Pinter Theatre

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harold Pinter Theatre
Comedy Theatre
Royal Comedy Theatre
The theatre in 2007
AddressPanton Street
London, SW1
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′35″N 0°07′51″W / 51.509778°N 0.130722°W / 51.509778; -0.130722
Public transitLondon Underground Piccadilly Circus
OwnerAmbassador Theatre Group
DesignationGrade II
TypeWest End theatre
(1,186 originally)
ProductionThe Hills of California
Opened15 October 1881; 142 years ago (1881-10-15)
ArchitectThomas Verity

The Harold Pinter Theatre, known as the Comedy Theatre until 2011,[1] is a West End theatre, and opened on Panton Street in the City of Westminster, on 15 October 1881, as the Royal Comedy Theatre. It was designed by Thomas Verity and built in just six months in painted (stucco) stone and brick.[2] By 1884 it was known as simply the Comedy Theatre. In the mid-1950s the theatre underwent major reconstruction and re-opened in December 1955; the auditorium remains essentially that of 1881, with three tiers of horseshoe-shaped balconies.[2]

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Early years: 1881–1900

The streets between Leicester Square and the Haymarket had been of insalubrious reputation until shortly before the construction of the Comedy Theatre, but by 1881 the "doubtful resorts of the roisterers" had been removed.[3] J. H. Addison held a plot of ground in Panton Street at the corner of Oxenden Street, for which he commissioned the architect Thomas Verity to design a theatre.[4] The builders were Kirk and Randall of Woolwich.[3] The original seating capacity was 1,186, comprising 140 stalls, 120 dress circle, 126 upper boxes, amphitheatre 100, pit 400 and gallery 300.[4] the construction was completed in six months.[2]

The theatre was, and remains, a three-tier house, its exterior in the classical tradition in painted (stucco) stone and brick.[2] The theatrical newspaper The Era described the interior as "Renaissance style, richly moulded and finished in white and gold. The draperies of the boxes are of maroon plush, elegantly draped and embroidered in gold".[5] It was originally planned to light the theatre by the new electric lighting, but for unspecified reasons this was temporarily abandoned, and the usual gas lighting was installed.[5][n 1]

The first lessee of the theatre, Alexander Henderson, who had worked with Verity on the design of the building, intended it to be the home of comic opera; at one time he had intended to call it the Lyric.[n 2] The theatre historians Mander and Mitchenson write that the name he finally chose – the Royal Comedy – lacked any official approval for the use of "Royal", which was dropped within three years.[6][n 3] He assembled a strong team, including Lionel Brough as stage director and Auguste van Biene as musical director.[5]

Fred Leslie as Rip Van Winkle, 1882

The theatre opened on 15 October 1881 with Edmond Audran's opéra comique La mascotte in an English adaptation by Robert Reece and H. B. Farnie.[7] La mascotte was followed by three more adaptations by Farnie: Suppé's Boccaccio, Planquette's Rip Van Winkle (with Fred Leslie as Rip) in 1882,[8] and Chassaigne's Falka (with Violet Cameron in the title role) in 1884.[9] The last of the series of operettas was Erminie in 1885,[10] which starred, among others, Violet Melnotte, who became the lessee of the theatre in that year. She presented plays including The Silver Shield by Sydney Grundy; and Sister Mary by Wilson Barrett and Clement Scott (1886), and a season of comic operas in which she appeared herself.[8]

Melnotte sub-let the theatre in 1887 to Herbert Beerbohm Tree – his first venture into management – who presented and co-starred with Marion Terry in The Red Lamp by Outram Tristram.[11] The following year the sub-lessee was Charles Hawtrey, who ran the theatre until 1892 and produced Jane (1890) and many farces described by Mander and Mitchenson as "now-forgotten".[8]

Poster for The New Woman

In 1893 J. Comyns Carr took over the management of the theatre. He remained in charge for three years, producing among other plays Sowing the Wind by Sydney Grundy (1893); The Professor's Love Story by J. M. Barrie (1894); The New Woman by Grundy (1894); and The Benefit of the Doubt by A. W. Pinero (1895). The resident stars of the house in this period were Cyril Maude and his wife Winifred Emery. Hawtrey resumed the management in a play of his own, Mr Martin, in which he co-starred with Lottie Venne.[12] which he followed with a successful season of light comedies.[8] William Greet took over the theatre in 1898 and presented Arthur Roberts and Ada Reeve in a musical comedy Milord Sir Smith with music by Edward Jakobowski.[13] The major productions of 1899 were A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Great Caesar by George Grossmith Jr. and Paul Rubens, with Willie Edouin, Grossmith and Reeve.[14]

20th century

Maidie Andrews as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Comedy Theatre during the Christmas period 1903–04. Pictured in The Tatler (January 1904)

In the early years of the 20th century the Comedy was often used for special seasons and matinée performances of avant garde plays. Frank Benson and his company, which included Lilian Braithwaite and Oscar Asche, played a Shakespeare season in 1901.[15] In 1902, Lewis Waller presented an adaption of Monsieur Beaucaire which ran for 430 performances.[16]

In 1904 Fred Terry and Julia Neilson played in Sunday for a run of 129 performances.[17] The following year Charles Frohman presented John Barrymore in his first London appearance in The Dictator. In 1906 John Hare presented a short season, appearing in The Alabaster Staircase, and a revival of A Pair of Spectacles. Other productions in the first decade of the century included Raffles with Gerald du Maurier in the title role (1906), which ran for 351 performances;[18] 1907, a series of six dramas by Somerset Maugham and others starring Marie Tempest (1907–1909);[19] and Marie Löhr in Pinero's Preserving Mr Panmure (1911). The final production to open before the First World War was Peg o' My Heart, with Laurette Taylor, which ran for 710 performances.[20]

In 1915 the Comedy followed the fashion for revue, presenting Albert de Courville's Shell Out! (1915), C. B. Cochran's Half-past Eight (1916), and four successive revues by André Charlot: This and That and See-Saw! (1916), and Bubbly and Tails Up (1918). They all ran well, particularly the last two, which ran for 429 and 467 performances respectively.[21]

The theatre established the New Watergate Club in 1956, under producer Anthony Field, to counter the stage censorship in force at the time.[22] The Theatres Act 1843 was still in force and required scripts to be submitted for approval by the Lord Chamberlain's Office. Formation of the club allowed plays that had been banned due to language or subject matter to be performed under "club" conditions.

Plays produced in this way included the UK premières of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy and Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.[23] The law was not revoked until 1968, but in the late 1950s there was a loosening of conditions in theatre censorship, the club was dissolved and Peter Shaffer's Five Finger Exercise premièred to a public audience.[citation needed]

The theatre was Grade II listed by English Heritage in June 1972.[2]

In 2011 it was renamed the Harold Pinter Theatre, after the playwright Harold Pinter.[24][1]

Recent productions

Pinter at the Pinter season

The Jamie Lloyd Company

Notes, references and sources


  1. ^ The delay did not affect the Comedy's chance of being the first theatre in London (or anywhere else) to be lit by electricity, as that distinction had already been won by the Savoy, which opened five days before the Comedy.[6]
  2. ^ The London theatre of that name was not built until 1888.[6]
  3. ^ There was a royal connexion of sorts: the Prince of Wales was in the audience on the opening night.[7]


  1. ^ a b "Harold Pinter has London theatre named after him", BBC News, 7 September 2011, accessed 8 September 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e English Heritage listing details accessed 28 April 2007.
  3. ^ a b Mander and Mitchenson, p. 67
  4. ^ a b "The Royal Comedy Theatre", The Morning Post, 11 October 1881, p. 2
  5. ^ a b c "The New Comedy Theatre", The Era, 15 October 1881, p. 5
  6. ^ a b c Mander and Mitchenson, p. 48
  7. ^ a b "The Comedy Theatre", Pall Mall Gazette, 17 October 1881, p. 11
  8. ^ a b c d Mander and Mitchenson, p. 49
  9. ^ "Falka at The Comedy", The Era, 23 February 1884, p. 9
  10. ^ "Comedy Theatre", The Standard, 10 November 1885, p. 5
  11. ^ "The London Theatres", The Era, 23 April 1887, p. 14
  12. ^ "Comedy Theatre", The Morning Post, 5 October 1896, p. 3
  13. ^ "Milord Sir Smith", The Era, 17 December 1898, p. 14
  14. ^ "New Plays and Important Revivals", The Era Almanack, 1900, p. 4
  15. ^ "Comedy Theatre", The Times, 17 January 1901, p.3
  16. ^ Parker, p. 1209
  17. ^ Parker, p. 1214
  18. ^ Parker, p. 1212
  19. ^ Mander and Mitchenson, p. 50
  20. ^ Parker, p. 1198
  21. ^ Parker, pp. 12011 and 1214
  22. ^ Interview with Anthony Field CBE 14 March, 2007(The Theatre Archive Project, British Library) accessed 16 October 2007.
  23. ^ Paul Ibell. Theatreland: A Journey Through the Heart of London's Theatre. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009: p. 205
  24. ^ ATG renames Comedy Theatre after Harold Pinter, Official London Theatre, 7 September 2011, accessed 31 October 2017.
  25. ^ Billington, Michael. "Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane", The Guardian, 10 May 2006
  26. ^ Billington, Michael. "Donkey's Years", The Guardian, 23 February 2006
  27. ^ "Boeing-Boeing, Comedy, London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  28. ^ "Theatre review: The Lover/The Collection / Comedy Theatre, London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  29. ^ "Theatre review: Dickens Unplugged / Comedy, London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  30. ^ "Theatre review: Sunset Boulevard / Comedy, London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  31. ^ "Theatre review: Too Close to the Sun | Comedy Theatre, London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  32. ^ "Prick Up Your Ears | Theatre review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  33. ^ "The Misanthrope | Theatre review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  34. ^ "Behud/Mrs Warren's Profession/Enchanted Palace | Theatre review | Stage". The Guardian. 16 May 2019. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  35. ^ "Review | Theatre | La Bête | Comedy Theatre | London | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  36. ^ "Birdsong | Comedy, London | Review | Michael Billington | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  37. ^ "The Children's Hour - review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  38. ^ Official Comedy Theatre website."Ambassador Theatre Group's"[dead link] Archived 23 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 24 June 2011.
  39. ^ Official theatre website."", accessed 8 September 2011.
  40. ^ "Absent Friends - review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  41. ^ "A Chorus of Disapproval – review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  42. ^ "Old Times - review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  43. ^ "Chimerica – review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  44. ^ "Mojo – review | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  45. ^ Matt Trueman. "Theatre Royal Bath announces 2014 summer season | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  46. ^ "The Importance of Being Earnest review – trivialises sublime Wilde | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  47. ^ "Sunny Afternoon review: a heady celebration of the Kinks and Ray Davies | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  48. ^ "Nice Fish review – Mark Rylance reels them in with kooky comedy | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  49. ^ "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? review – Staunton ignites Albee's marital battle | Stage". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2019.
  50. ^ Kellaway, Kate (25 June 2017). "Hamlet review – an all-consuming marvel". The Guardian.
  51. ^ Billington, Michael (18 September 2017). "Oslo review – the political gets personal as tense peace talks are given epic sweep". The Guardian.
  52. ^ Billington, Michael (18 January 2018). "The Birthday Party review – Pinter's cryptic classic turns 60 with a starry cast". The Guardian.
  53. ^ Haynes, Natalie (29 May 2018). "Consent review – bracingly clever courtroom drama". The Guardian.
  54. ^ a b Billington, Michael. "Pinter at the Pinter review", The Guardian, 28 September 2018
  55. ^ a b c d e Brown, Mark (10 May 2018). "West End theatre to show all one-act plays by Harold Pinter in London season". The Guardian.
  56. ^ Billington, Michael (14 March 2019). "Betrayal review – Hiddleston is superb in haunting drama of deception". The Guardian.


  • Mander, Raymond; Joe Mitchenson (1961). The Theatres of London. London: Rupert Hart-Davis. OCLC 221877906.
  • Parker, John, ed. (1925). Who's Who in the Theatre (fifth ed.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. OCLC 10013159.
This page was last edited on 7 June 2024, at 22:43
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