Currently showing at the London Coliseum

London Coliseum

A guide to the London Coliseum in London's West End

Today the London Coliseum on St Martin's Lane is the home of the English National Opera, but it began with far less high-minded ambitions. Designed to be the biggest theatre in London, outstripping even the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the venue accommodating 2,359 people was to be the home of variety theatre. It underwent a complete restoration in 2000, restoring its terracotta fa‡ade and its sumptuous interior which has many of the original features intact. It makes a lavish setting for your visit with family or partner.

The theatre is at the heart of the West End, close to attractions such as Covent Garden, Leicester Square with its galleries, and the South Bank. It also offers easy access to lots of popular restaurants and pubs and so is ideally located if you're looking to combine your visit with some sightseeing or pre- or post-theatre drinks. Or why not take advantage of a theatre meal deal? The venue is three minutes from Leicester Square tube station, five minutes from Charing Cross and six minutes from Covent Garden.

The history

Despite the vast outlay on the building, as a venture it was a disaster and closed in 1906, two years after it opened. It reopened in 1907 and housed variety theatre successfully, attracting all the major names until,in 1931, it became a mainstream theatre proper. Its inaugural production was The White Horse Inn, a lavish musical featuring a cast of 160, three bands and a huge chorus. It ran for 656 performances. It was followed by another spectacular, Casanova, by Johann Strauss which infamously resulted in a stage brawl between two of the principals. Talking pictures arrived in 1931 and the film King Kong was a huge success.

Pantomimes followed in 1936, before the theatre began staging a string of hit Broadway musicals. These included Annie Get Your Gun, which ran for three continuous years, then a record, and also Kiss Me Kate, Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. It ended when The Bells Are Ringing in 1957 failed to chime with its audience. In the 1960s the venue was converted to a cinema but in 1968 the successful staging of Don Giovanni led to a residency by the Sadler's Wells Company which became the English National Opera (ENO)) in 1973.

Today the ENO enjoys huge success with its English-language productions of operas by composers including Mozart, Janacek and Puccini, as well as ballet and popular musicals like Sweeney Todd.

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