Theatre Royal Stratford East

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Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal Stratford.jpg
The exterior of the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Location Stratford
London, E15
United Kingdom
Coordinates 51°32′34″N 0°00′03″E / 51.542730°N 0.000800°E / 51.542730; 0.000800
Public transit London Underground London Overground Crossrail Docklands Light Railway National Rail Stratford
Owner Pioneer Theatres Limited
Designation Grade II* listed
Type Community
Capacity 460 on three levels
Current use Touring and own productions
Opened 17 December 1884; 131 years ago (1884-12-17)
Rebuilt 1887/1891: Buckle
1902: Frank Matcham
Architect James George Buckle

The Theatre Royal Stratford East is a theatre in Stratford 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 were to return, as the Theatre Workshop in 1953, with artistic director Joan Littlewood and take over the theatre.

Audio description of the theatre by Barbara Windsor.

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 only managed 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 all of its front of house and backstage areas as part of a project to create the Stratford Cultural Quarter.

In 2005 the Theatre Royal Stratford East made history by having the first British Black musical to transfer 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. This production 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 Theatre Royal Stratford East 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 Royal 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 Joan 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 had worked as an assistant to Joan Littlewood for some years, but took over the artistic directorship of the theatre from Clare 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]

Theatre images

Kerry Michael joined Stratford East 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 emigrants.[6]

His debut play as artistic director was The Battle of Green Lanes by Cosh Omar. Set amongst London's Cypriot Society, it reflects Kerry's commitment to those unheard voices.[7]

Kerry directed the hit musicals The Harder They Come[8] (at Theatre Royal Stratford East and for the transfers to The Barbican and the West End's Playhouse Theatre) and also Come Dancing by Ray Davies and Paul Sirett. [9]

In 2007 Pied Piper won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, a feat repeated in 2011 with Cora Bissett's play Roadkill.[10] The theatre was nominated again in 2014[11] with their production of Oh What a Lovely War, a revival of the Joan Littlewood classic, as part of a programme celebrating her centennial year.

In 2012 Stratford East, 'fast becoming one of the UK's most innovative and interactive theatres',[12] launched its Open Stage Project, enabling people who wanted to be more involved to get on board with everything from programming ideas to working on productions.

2014 productions at Theatre Royal Stratford East included David Baddiel's musical The Infidel, directed by Kerry and David Baddiel.[13]


  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
  7. ^ Billington, Michael. "The Battle of Green Lanes". The Guardian. 
  8. ^ Amer, Matthew. "The Harder They Come(s) to the Playhouse". Official London Theatre. 
  9. ^ Walker, Tim. The Independent  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ . Olivier Awards  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ . Olivier Awards  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Ferrier, Morwenna. The Telegraph  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ . Kickstarter  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • 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]