Apollo Victoria Theatre
Current Show: Wicked
First preview: 7th September 2006
Booking until: 27th November 2021 (resumes 21st June 2021)
Running time: 2h 45m including one interval
Address: 17 Wilton Road, London SW1V 1LG
Air Conditioning: No
Current Owner: Ambassador Theatre Group
Box Office: +44 (0) 844 871 3001 (call charges apply) or +44 (0) 20 7834 6318
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Limited in-person day seats – £29.50 sold at 10:00AM (queue at the Wilton Road entrance).
Box Office: +44 (0) 844 871 3001 (call charges apply) or +44 (0) 20 7834 6318
Stage Door: +44 (0) 020 7592 1444
Access Bookings: +44 (0) 844 871 7677
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Victoria
Buses: 2, 11, 13, 16, 24, 38, 36, 44, 52, 170, 185, 211, 390, 507, 761, 762, 763, 764, 765, C1 and C10
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
This grand 2,328 seat theatre originally opened on Wednesday 15th October 1930 as the New Victoria Cinema. With an initial seating capacity of 2,860 it was one of the largest – and most expensive – entertainment venues in the country with building costs estimated at £250,000 – around £16m today. In the era of ‘super-cinemas’, Provincial Cinematograph Theatres – a part of the Gaumont British cinema chain – had invited architects Ernest Walmsley Lewis and William Edward Trent to submit designs for such a cinema to be built within the shadow of Victoria Railway Station. Designing the venue was challenging – particularly with two major roads running either side of it. Having two frontages – both identically impressive Germanic Art Deco facades – was considered somewhat problematic, particularly for audiences arriving and leaving. In the days before mobile phones, patrons often found themselves waiting on Vauxhall Bridge Road while their companion stood outside on Wilton Road wondering if they had been stood up.
Whilst many questioned the building’s stark exterior design, some, perhaps more poetically described it as “rhythm in rectangles” with some nearby bus & tram workers said to have nicknamed the venue ‘Sing-Sing’ after the infamous New York prison.
Construction of the new building uncovered something quite unexpected; in digging down to a depth of 14ft, building workers uncovered a layer of black river mud and a line of old mooring posts – evidence that at one time an arm of the river Thames had extended to this point – quite remarkable considering the nearest riverbank is now more than 1km away.
The New Victoria Cinema opened with the film Old English, adapted from the stage play by John Galsworthy. This striking art deco cinema was designed, as were all super-cinemas of the period, with facilities for stage shows that were presented before the main feature. The opening night’s entertainment was Hoop-La – the mind boggles!
Today’s feature films are usually underscored with a soundtrack but at the time, accompanying music was still provided in-house and the cinema was equipped with a Compton 3 manual 15 rank theatre organ for just this purpose, played on the opening night by Reginald Foort.
The auditorium was, and remains today, an outstanding example of art deco design. Inside, the original colour palette represented a fairy palace beneath the sea with one reporter at the time describing the experience as “Like entering a mermaid’s cave…there are gracefully curved pillars either side of the stage, which merge into oyster shape at the top, and the lighting behind the columns changes from sea-green to delicate coral pink.” Whilst another, equally in awe, mentioned “huge submarine flowers against the walls that branch up and out and throw mysterious light towards the realms above, and glassy illuminated stalactites hanging from the ceiling; and a proscenium like a slender host of silver trees, and silvered organ pipes that shoot up to the roof; while over the whole the lights change from deep-sea green to the colours of the dawn, and from these to the warm comfort of sunlight’. Some of the aquatic features can still be seen today, including a rather sexy mermaid above the Gents toilet door!
Lighting seems to have been a particular contributing feature to the visual success of the design, with this provided by Messrs Nichols, Humphrey and Cucksey. Despite universal praise for its luminous visual beauty, at the time, concerns were raised that with talking pictures replacing silent movies, these leviathan buildings lacked sufficient sound amplification (then in its infancy) to make the whole experience truly enjoyable – and audible – for the paying audience. However, those concerns proved largely unfounded, and the New Victoria Cinema enjoyed early success as a home, not only for film, but also variety performance including occasional big bands and symphony orchestras.
A further notable feature of the era, facilitated largely by the sheer scale of the building, was increased consideration for performers. Dressing rooms here, unlike many of London’s older theatres (which can often be described as drab, small, and decidedly unglamorous backstage) were spacious, “with every modern convenience” provided. Dressing rooms had hot & cold baths and even showers.
In 1933 a Royal Matinee for King George V was staged at the theatre and in June 1939, just months prior to the outbreak of WW2, the cinema was one of three London venues chosen to show a live broadcast from the Epsom Derby, marking the building’s significance not only as a part of the history of the film industry, but also of live television broadcasting.
From September 1940 to May 1941, the theatre was closed due to the threat from bombing but miraculously, no serious damage was sustained during the blitz and it reopened quickly, providing much needed entertainment for weary Londoners and troops on leave.
Even after the war, risks remained for this grand building. For a period of time, with 1950s property developers willing to knock down just about anything in their search for usable land in central London, the cinema fell under threat of demolition. Ultimately it was saved by its proximity to Victoria Station, facility to stage live entertainment, fully equipped stage and dressing rooms and was instead refurbished and in 1958, began hosting ballet and even more live entertainment as well as showing films.
Despite this reprieve (the theatre was by this time operated by the Rank Organisation) and the granting of Grade II listed status on 28th June 1972, the final films were screened here in November 1975, a horror double bill of Legend of the Werewolf and Vampire Circus.
Though the theatre remained closed for much of the late 1970s period, it did stage several rock concerts with acts such as ELO and Peter Gabriel performing here. It was fully reopened and refurbished by new owners Apollo Leisure Group to new designs by Michael Sassoon, under its new name, the Apollo Victoria on 15th September 1980 with a week long run of concerts by Shirley Bassey. This began a renaissance for the venue with a succession of big names choosing to stage concerts here – Dean Martin, Gladys Knight and Liza Minnelli to name just a few, with the venue praised for both acoustics and ambiance.
Along with new ownership came other changes, not just significant here, but also for the effects they would have on the wider theatre industry. Apollo Leisure installed the first computerised ticket system to appear in the West End, a costly Rank-Strand “Galaxy” lighting console, and even a Jacuzzi in one of the newly refitted dressing rooms – a luxury unheard of in a London theatre.
In August 1981, the Apollo Victoria finally found its place as part of the West End theatre family, with the opening of its first full scale musical The Sound of Music. The Stage later reported “They probably haven’t realised it yet themselves, but Apollo Leisure have been responsible for creating an entirely new profession. Theatre Doctors. They take ailing theatres refurbish them, prescribe a far sighted marketing policy and set them on their feet again.”
Landing the rights to stage a revival of The Sound of Music was something of a theatrical coup (the first British production at the Palace Theatre had run for well over 5 years) and by casting Petula Clark as Maria, the producers ensured that tickets flew out of the door. A possibly bigger surprise for today’s theatregoers is the prices charged – just £7.50 for top price seats…how things have changed!
Other large scale productions followed, albeit with mixed success, including Camelot with Richard Harris, Dash with Wayne Sleep and Fiddler on the Roof with Topol in his familiar role as Tevye. Then in 1984, a show came along which would make West End history: Starlight Express. A staggering 1,262 seats were removed to make way for a roller-skating ‘race track’ which ran through the audience with the entire cast on roller-skates and much of the auditorium painted black. The show – a huge risk at the time even for Andrew Lloyd Webber – opened on 27 March 1984 and played for 7,406 performances, finally closing on 12thJanuary 2002 – almost 18 years later.
After Starlight Express closed, the theatre was extensively refurbished – including the reinstatement of the seats removed to accommodate the skating track – and the interior returned to its former glory. Architects Jaques Muir and Partners were brought in to restore the auditorium, including reinstating the original fountain lights and the replacing of over 3,500 power-draining incandescent lamps with 88,000 LEDs – a first for UK theatre auditoria.
The first show in the fully restored theatre, and the first new show of the new millennium was A R Rahman’s Bollywood-inspired Bombay Dreams. Many assumed this was a creative departure for Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose name is still closely associated with the piece – in fact the show was produced rather than written by him.
After a moderately successful two year run, the Apollo Victoria waved goodbye to Bollywood and welcomed the Bee Gees in the form of hit musical Saturday Night Fever, which had previously enjoyed a successful run at the London Palladium. This was then followed by another jukebox musical, Movin’ Out, featuring the songs of Billy Joel. This only ran for two months – something of a flop by the Apollo Victoria’s more recent standards.
The theatre is currently the home of the musical Wicked, which has been casting its spell over audiences since September 2006 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, and has been seen by well over ten million appreciative (and very loyal) fans. It’s worth the price of a ticket alone to see one of the most spectacular Art Deco interiors in Britain and auditorium lighting which recaptures much of the magic experienced by those first 1930s audiences.
Since November 2009, the Apollo Victoria Theatre has been owned and operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group.
- Movin’ Out
- Saturday Night Fever
- Bombay Dreams
- Starlight Express
We take care to provide accurate information. Records prior to internet age can be difficult to verify so we only list productions back as far as the year 2000, however we hold some records prior to this date offline. If you would like more information, or are aware of any errors, please contact us here. “One night only” productions and private theatre hires are not listed.
Arthur Lloyd’s Theatre Website offers an encyclopaedic insight into the history of the West End’s theatres.
Theatricalia is a database of past & future theatre productions.
Thisistheatre also offers interesting insights into the history of London’s theatres.
The Theatres Trust offers information and support for our nation’s theatres.