Mark Shenton’s top venues: Wyndham’s Theatre, London
This series has run to three dozen theatres already, and it’s a striking fact that, so far, only a handful of commercial West End theatres have made it onto the list, namely the Apollo, the Haymarket and New London.
That isn’t to say I don’t love many of the venues in our mainly Victorian and Edwardian stock of West End houses. However, given that most are used in rotation (or even in perpetuity, in the case of the St Martin’s, home of The Mousetrap) as they variously become available by producing managements, our relationship to them is partly dictated by experiences we’ve had there, as much as to the buildings themselves.
But the West End house I love to visit most, at least from an architectural standpoint and the warm embrace it wraps you in as an audience member, is Wyndham’s Theatre on Charing Cross Road, a perfect chocolate-box jewel of a theatre. It has a gorgeously proportioned intimacy, and a lovely feminine quality in the delicacy of its decoration.
Now 126 years old, the theatre was first opened in November 1899 by actor-manager Charles Wyndham, whose name still adorns it. It was designed by WGR Sprague, who also designed the Noel Coward Theatre that is directly behind the Wyndham’s, as well as the Novello and Aldwych (on either end of the same crescent in the Aldwych, with the Waldorf Hotel in-between), the Gielgud and Queen’s (again, on either end of the same block on Shaftesbury Avenue), and the Ambassadors and St Martin’s, side-by-side on West Street.
Sprague obviously went in for complementary pairs; and theatre producer turned theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh obviously has a passion for the theatres he built, as Mackintosh now owns all but the Aldwych and St Martin’s, in addition to the Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and Victoria Palace).
Over the years, the Wyndham’s has provided a transfer home for such musicals as The Boy Friend (from the Players), Oh What a Lovely War (from Stratford East), Godspell (from the Roundhouse), Mackintosh’s own production of Side by Side by Sondheim (from the Mermaid) and a revival of Sunday in the Park With George (from the Menier Chocolate Factory), where the intimacy and immediacy of the theatre served each well.
But the theatre functions best as a playhouse, and is now arguably the most sought-after one in town. It’s typically booked solid with back-to-back limited engagements of star-driven vehicles such as the current revival of No Man’s Land – returning the play to the theatre where its original National Theatre production also transferred. When I interviewed Ian McKellen recently for The Stage, we were seated at a cafe outside the stage door, and talking about the original production that starred Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. McKellen remarked: “The old boys walked through there.”
It’s a venue rich in such theatrical associations and memories on both sides of the footlights. As an audience member, I saw the original production of Art here (now itself due back at the Old Vic this Christmas) and the London premiere of Edward Albee‘s Three Tall Women, Madonna in her West End stage debut in Up for Grabs, Jude Law’s Hamlet, a revival of David Hare’s Skylight with Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan, and the transfers of Ivo van Hove’s production of A View from the Bridge (from the Young Vic), King Charles III (from the Almeida) and People, Places and Things (from the National), among numerous others.
Everything about Wyndham’s is small but perfectly formed, from the little rotunda entrance foyer (a crush when a show is going in to be sure, but an oasis of calm in the interval) to the lovely stalls bar. It is everything you want a West End house to be; and thanks to the stunning refurbishment undertaken in 2008 by Mackintosh, its owner since 2005, it is now in a class of its own.
Charing Cross Road, London WC2H ODA
Box office: 0844 482 5120
General manager: Emma Whelan
Theatre manager: Everado Miranda
FOH and bars supervisor: Neil Berryman
Box office manager: Michael Rogers
Chief electrician: Marco De Francesca
Master carpenter: Arthur Turner
For Delfont Mackintosh Theatres Ltd:
Operations director: William Differ
Head of sales and ticketing: Paul Oxley
Head of property and projects: Kevin Flaye
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