Theatre Royal Stratford East

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Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal Stratford.jpg
The exterior of the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Address Gerry Raffles Square
City Newham, London
Coordinates 51°32′34″N 0°00′03″E / 51.542730°N 0.000800°E / 51.542730; 0.000800Coordinates: 51°32′34″N 0°00′03″E / 51.542730°N 0.000800°E / 51.542730; 0.000800
Designation Grade II* listed
Architect James George Buckle
Owned by Pioneer Theatres Limited
Capacity 460 on three levels
Type Community
Opened 17 December 1884
Rebuilt 1887 and 1891 Buckle
1902 Frank Matcham
1984 unknown
2001 unknown
Current use Touring and own productions

The Theatre Royal Stratford East is 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 on Salway Road, close to the junction with Angel Lane, designed by architect James George Buckle,[1] 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 Edward 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.[2] In 1902, Frank Matcham undertook minor improvements to the entrance and foyer.[3] The Fredericks family[4] continued to manage the theatre until 1932, although after the World War I, the theatre fell into financial difficulties, opening only irregularly after 1926.[5]

About 1950, a touring company presented the Christmas pantomime, Alice in Wonderland. The company returned as the Theatre Workshop in 1953 with artistic director Joan Littlewood and took 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.[2] Money remained short, and the manager, Gerry Raffles, managed only 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 the front of house and backstage as part of a project to create the Stratford Cultural Quarter.

In 2005 it had the first British Black musical transferred to London's West End, where it played at the Apollo Theatre. Recently[when?] the theatre produced a musical version of the cult Jamaican film The Harder They Come. It 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 the theatre as its hospitality house for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Artistic directors[edit]

Joan Littlewood (1953-1979)[edit]

The Theatre retains many original features within the main house

The theatre 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 Littlewood moved to France, never to direct again.

Clare Venables (1979-1982)[edit]

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

Philip Hedley (1979-2004)[edit]

Philip Hedley worked as an assistant to Littlewood for some years, and took over the artistic directorship from Venables in 1979. He provided traditional entertainment in style of old music hall variety shows on Sunday evenings while seeking 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)[edit]

Kerry Michael joined 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 immigrants.[6]


  1. ^ Theatre Royal history accessed 28 April 2007
  2. ^ a b English Heritage listing details accessed 28 April 2007
  3. ^ Earl and Sell (2000), pp. 142
  4. ^ The proscenium is surmounted by the letters "FF", commemorating the association with the Fredericks - possibly Frederick Fredericks, the husband of Dillon's sister, and a successful actor in his own right. Theatre superstition has it that should the letters ever be removed, the theatre will crumble.
  5. ^ West Ham: Worthies, entertainments, sports and pastimes, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 64-67 accessed: 29 May 2008
  6. ^ Ones to Watch - The Sunday Times, Culture, 9 January 2005
  • Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 142 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3


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

External links[edit]