The Duchess Theatre opened in 1929 with the play Tunnel Trench by Hubert Griffith. Close to Aldwych it’s one of the smallest theatre with a proscenium arch in the West End, accommodating just 479 people across two levels. It’s close to attractions such as Covent Garden, London Transport Museum and the Cortauld Institute. It’s also within easy walking distance of lots of popular restaurants and pubs making it ideally placed if you want to combine your visit with pre- or post-theatre drinks or a great lastminute.com meal deal.
The theatre is a very short walk from Covent Garden, Temple and Embankment. Notable productions at the venue include Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, which transferred here from Piccadilly Theatre, and Oh Calcutta! which transferred to the Duchess in 1974 and ran until 1980. More recently it has staged a mixture of new and classic drama, comedies, stand-up comedy and musical theatre.
The Duchess was built on the site of a World War One bombsite which has lain empty for a number of years because of the Ancient Lights rule, which prevented new buildings from blocking the light to existing buildings nearby. Ewen Barr who designed the venue got round the problem by designing his theatre with the upper storeys set back and the rest of the building low to the ground with the stalls and stage below ground level. Unfortunately, the basement continually fills with groundwater requiring the continual use of several pumps to empty it. The style of the interior constructed by F G R Minter Ltd. Modern Tudor Gothic.
Apart from hosting Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and Oh Calcutta! The Duchess Theatre also staged Tom Eyen's The Dirtiest Show in Town, which ran for 800 performances in the 1970s and a Late Joys Victorian Music Hall by the Players Theatre Company between 1987 and 1990. It was followed by Marc Camoletti's Don't Dress for Dinner, which transferred to the Duchess from the Apollo in 1992 and ran until 1997.
More recent productions include Harold Pinter's Betrayal with Janie Dee and Aden Gillett, Krapps' Last Tape by Samuel Beckett with Michael Gambon, the musical The Pitmen Painters and The Buddy Holly Story. Others include Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy starring David Suchet, The Boy with Tape on his Face, Ruby Wax, the award winning Stones in his Pockets, The Glee Club by Richard Cameron and Butley by Simon Gray.
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