West End musical chairs
Last night, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time returned officially to the Gielgud, across the street from the Apollo where it originally transferred from the National.
The original Apollo run was, of course, brought to an unforeseen premature close by the partial collapse of the theatre ceiling last December, though that venue has since, of course, re-opened (and gloriously refurbished, too), though the investigation into the collapse is still ongoing.
That, of course, is a truly exceptional reason for a show to move houses; but many shows around town have frequently played musical chairs as they have visited different theatres. Tonight, for instance, Let it Be returns to the West End – this time to the Garrick, as a summer filler ahead of the transfer of The Scottsboro Boys, having previously played at both the Prince of Wales (where it was itself a filler before The Book of Mormon) and Savoy.
Elsewhere, Mamma Mia! is on its third consecutive home – after originally opening at the Prince Edward, it moved to the Prince of Wales and is now at the Novello. Each change could be seen as a pragmatic one to accommodate shrinking demand for the show – the theatres respectively seat 1,650; 1,160; and 1,105 seats – but each time they have also enabled landlord Delfont Mackintosh Theatres to refresh their stock and attract new shows in turn. Mamma Mia! made way for Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward and for The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales, thus securing each of those theatres a new long-running show, while safeguarding Mamma Mia’s ongoing life elsewhere. Mamma Mia! also last year moved home on Broadway from the Winter Garden (1,526 seats) to the Broadhurst (1,156 seats).
Jersey Boys is now on its second home – after opening originally at the Prince Edward, it made way there for Miss Saigon and is now at the Piccadilly. And Les Miserables is playing its third London theatre, after opening originally at the Barbican and then moving to the Palace, it is now at the Queen’s.
It’s not just musicals but also plays that play this game. The Mousetrap hasn’t always been at the St Martin’s, but spent its first 21 years at the Ambassadors before moving next door, where it has now been in residence since 1974. That saw it increase in capacity from 444 seats to 550. The Woman in Black is now on its third West End house – after transferring to the Strand from its original run at the Lyric Hammersmith, it then moved to the Playhouse, and is now at the Fortune.
Long-running shows make these moves for their own and/or their landlords’ convenience, but it’s no bad thing to keep refreshing the geography of the West End. I would love to see a different show at the St Martin’s; I’ve seen the Mousetrap a couple of times, but would love to be a more regular visitor at this gem of a wood-panelled house. Ditto, I’d love to return to Her Majesty’s sometime, and not just to see The Phantom of the Opera again.