Peacock Theatre, July 2007
|Owned by||London School of Economics|
|Capacity||999 seats (current)
|Opened||13 November 1911|
|Other names||1911 London Opera House
1914 National Theatre of England
1916 Stoll Theatre
1916 Stoll Picture Theatre
1960 The Royalty Theatre
|Production||Sadler's Wells productions in repertory|
|Current use||Also a lecture theatre|
The Peacock Theatre is a theatre in the City of Westminster, located in Portugal Street, near Aldwych. The 999-seat house is owned by, and comprises part of the London School of Economics and Political Science campus, who utilise the theatre for lectures, public talks, conferences, political speeches and open days. The university has a long lease with London's principal centre for contemporary dance, Sadler's Wells, with whom it has negotiated a deal to bring in dance companies under the banner 'Sadler's Wells in the West End'. The venue often plays host to dance performances, conferences, ballet, pop concerts and award ceremonies. The stage is approximately 36 feet (11 m) by 33 feet (10 m).
Gibbon's Tennis Court became used as a theatre on this site in the 17th century. In 1911, the London Opera House opened on this site, becoming the National Theatre of England, three years later. Neither theatre was successful and the venture was sold, becoming the Stoll Theatre, in 1916.
A theatre has stood on the site since the 17th century. Known as Gibbon's Tennis Court, or the Vere Street Theatre. Mrs Hughes became the first (identified) woman to tread the boards of a London theatre, on 8 December 1660, in a performance of Othello. The company left the theatre in 1663 and there is no record of further plays at the theatre. The building was finally destroyed by fire in 1809.
The Holman Opera Troupe were lessees of the London Opera House. Mr. George Holman, his wife, his daughter Sallie Holman (soprano/principal singer) and another daughter, and two sons, with some others, including William H. Crane and Sallie`s husband Mr. J. T. Dalton, which toured throughout Canada for many years.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the creation of Aldwych and Kingsway, linking High Holborn and Aldwych, destroyed a number of established London playhouses and the site between Portugal Street and Sardinia Street became available. New York-based theatre impresario Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II) commissioned Bertie Crewe, to build a new theatre in the Beaux-Arts style. The theatre opened on 13 November 1911 as the London Opera House. It had an approximately 45 feet (13.7 m) by 78 feet (23.8 m) stage, and a capacity of 2,660. As an opera house, it found it difficult to attract audiences from the Royal Opera House, and from 1914–15 the house became the National Theatre of England.
In May 1915 the theatre hosted Vladimir Rosing's Allied Opera Season. Rosing presented the English premiere of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades and introduced Tamaki Miura as Madama Butterfly, the first Japanese singer to be cast in that role.
The theatre was purchased by Oswald Stoll in 1916 and renamed the Stoll Theatre and, for a time, as the Stoll Picture Theatre, housing cine variety until the 1950s. Rose Marie played at the Stoll Theatre in 1942, followed by Kismet and Stars on Ice in 1947. The London transfer of a version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess that restored it to an operatic form, took place here on 9 October 1952. Joan of Arc at the Stake was produced in 1954, starring Ingrid Bergman. The theatre closed on 4 August 1957, and was demolished for the construction of an office block.
The present, smaller theatre was built and christened The Royalty Theatre in 1960, located on the basement level of an office building. It was the first West End theatre to be built since the Saville Theatre in 1931. The MGM film Ben Hur played at the theatre in 1961. Mutiny on the Bounty played next, and the theatre was then equipped for screening Cinerama films becoming London's third Cinerama theatre (the others being the Casino Cinerama and the Coliseum Cinerama). The theatre only premièred one Cinerama film, The Golden Head, however. In 1966, the house returned to live theatre use. The Royalty Theatre's only successes were a run of the hit Oh! Calcutta! and a hit production of Bubbling Brown Sugar in the late 1970s. It was also the venue for the first and last concerts on what turned out to be the final tour of the English folk-rock singer Sandy Denny with her band in November 1977, and the venue features on the 1998 posthumous release Gold Dust which was produced over 20 years later from the original tapes. Spectacular 'follies' style shows and 'drag' shows didn't find an audience, and the theatre became used as a TV studio for This is Your Life, but was later bought by the London School of Economics and renamed the Peacock Theatre.
When Sadler's Wells determined to build its new theatre in 1996, the company moved to the Peacock Theatre. After the new Sadler's Wells Theatre opened in 1998, the Peacock became a dance venue for the company. The Rat Pack played at the theatre in 2002, and Doldrum Bay premièred here in 2003. The house is now shared between the London School of Economics (during the day) and Sadler's Wells evening dance productions.
The Peacock Theatre is most noted as the home of one of the West End's most unusual ghosts, a dolphin commonly known as 'Flipper'. An urban myth has grown up that, during one of Paul Raymond's revues at the theatre in the 1970s, a dolphin was kept in a tank beneath the stage, where it lived permanently and later died from neglect. In fact, this is not true. Two dolphins called 'Pennie' and 'Pixie' were indeed kept in a tank at the theatre for three months for a show called 'The Royalty Folies', which was later renamed 'The Great International Nude Show'. However, neither of these animals died while at the theatre and at the close of the show the animals were moved to a dolphinarium in the far east. The remnants of the tank and its lifting equipment still remain below the stage and numerous visitors to the theatre claim to have heard in the vicinity a spectral squeaking, not unlike a crying baby. One possible explanation is that the London Underground passes very close to the sub-stage areas of the theatre and it is noise from the tunnels that creates the sound.
- List of London theatres
- List of West End musicals
- List of notable musical theatre productions
- Musical theatre
- Peacock theatre history Retrieved 28 July 2012
- Morgan, Henry James Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada : (Toronto, 1903) 
- Williams, Gordon. British Theatre in The Great War: a reevaluation pg. 271-273., New York: Continuum (2003)
- Martin, George, The Opera Companion to Twentieth Century Opera pp. 389–396 (New York: Dodd, Meade & Company, 1979)
- Ben-Hur (1959) at the Internet Movie Database accessed 2 Feb 2008
- Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) at the Internet Movie Database accessed 2 Feb 2008
- The Golden Head (1964) at the Internet Movie Database accessed 2 Feb 2008
- http://www.sadlerswells.com/page/history-peacock Reference to the dolphin ghost
- History and images of the theatre at the Arthur Lloyd site
- Recent history of the theatre
- Info about Sadler's Wells
- Information about the theatre
- London Theatre Guide to Peacock Theatre