Current Show: Matilda
First preview: 25th October 2011
Booking until: 9th January 2022 (Resumes 22nd June 2021)
Running time: 2h35m including interval
Address: 32-34 Earlham St, London WC2H 9HU
Air Conditioning: Yes (though reports vary of its effectiveness)
Current Owner: LW Theatres
Box Office: +44 (0) 20 7087 7745
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7850 8710
Many of London’s theatres are accessed from below or above street level. If you need to avoid steps, it is advisable to contact the theatre directly by telephone or email as they will be able to advise you on which seats are most easily accessed. Many have specially adapted wheelchair spaces.
Theatres may be able to provide additional facilities for customers with a hearing or visual impairment and some shows may also offer specific, adapted performances. It’s best to check with the venue directly via one of the following methods:
Access Bookings: +44 (0) 20 7087 7745
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Covent Garden
Buses: 14, 19, 24, 38, and 176
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
The Cambridge Theatre opened on the 4th of September 1930 and despite turning 90 years old in 2020, is actually one of the younger theatres in London’s West End. It was one of a number to open in 1930 along with the Prince Edward, The Phoenix, The Whitehall (now The Trafalgar Studios) and the Leicester Square Theatre.
Occupying an irregular corner site between Covent Garden’s Earlham Street (originally named Great Earl Street) and Mercer Street, the theatre’s entrance faces a monument known as Seven Dials – a name deriving from the seven streets which join here rather than the dials on the monument itself which, strangely, number only six. Prior to the construction of the monument, the area was known more prosaically as Seven Streets.
This once fashionable area had, by the 19th Century fallen into disrepute with slums and prostitutes where today we see boutique shops and upmarket hotels. The original monument was built by politician & entrepreneur Thomas Neale whose name lives on through the pretty Neal’s Yard just a few steps from the theatre.
The theatre was designed by Wimperis, Simpson and Guthrie and built by Gee Walker & Slater Ltd for famous theatre producer, Bertie Mayer. The theatre’s striking external aesthetic was matched by equally remarkable interior design, partly by Serge Chermayeff, and the inclusion of several outstanding bronze friezes, including nude figures exercising, by Anthony Gibbons Grinling.
The building is constructed from steel and is a rare early example of London theatre adopting the modern expressionist style pioneered in Germany during the 1920s. Its design reflects a conscious reaction to the design excesses of the Victorian music hall, as architects sought a new style to reflect the growing sophistication of modern British theatre.
The Stage newspaper’s 4th September 1930 edition described the Cambridge’s “beautiful, if somewhat peculiar decorative scheme” as “Teutonic…strangely reminiscent of the futuristic sets in German films immediately after the war of 1914-18.”
Using concealed lighting, polished steel and touches of bright colour, it was these original features along with Grinling’s friezes inside which led to English Heritage granting Grade II listed status to the Cambridge Theatre in January 1999.
The Cambridge opened with a Review called Charlot’s Masquerade featuring Beatrice Lillie. The Era reported ‘Bertie Meyer gave a wonderful party to follow the first performance of “Charlot’s Masquerade” at the new Cambridge Theatre. I left about twelve-thirty, when many people were still arriving. Nearly all the prominent actors and actresses from other theatres came on, and there was unanimous praise for London’s latest playhouse….I am surprised that the architect did not provide a slightly bigger stage, for in the ballets there was a suggestion that the company was rather cramped.’
Incredibly, footage from that very first production still survives – and you can see what they mean in the following clip (without sound)!
Productions in the 1930s included Elizabeth of England and The Greeks Had A Word For It, followed by a successful repertory season of George Bernard Shaw plays and a 1937 review, 1066 and All That.
May 1939 saw the first appearance of Lydia Kyasht’s Ballet de la Jeunnesse Anglaise; then for the first few years of WWII the theatre was used as a cinema, mainly for film trade shows.
In June 1942 Russian emigre Jay Pomeroy presented a programme called New Russian Ballet with music provided by the London Symphony Orchestra, followed in March 1943 by a legendary revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House with a cast including Edith Evans. The year ended with followed a Christmas production of Peter Pan, just months after the death of J M Barrie.
The Johann Strauss operetta A Night in Venice began its run in May 1944 and lasted for 433 performances. For some years the Cambridge had been famous for its Sunday concerts presented by Jay Pomeroy; he eventually founded the New London Opera Company and made the Cambridge its headquarters from 1947-48, staging a number of successful operatic revivals, bringing Ballet Companies to London and presenting Italian and French companies in seasons of plays.
The theatre’s next success was the Cecil Landeau revue Sauce Tartare with a young Audrey Hepburn in the chorus and its sequel Sauce Piquante.
In 1950, the theatre was refurbished, with the original gold and silver décor painted over with garish red paint and candelabras and chandeliers added. During 1951 Menotti’s opera The Consul was staged and an ill-fated revival of Hassan followed. In the following year, Peter Daubeney presented several successful foreign dance seasons.
The decade saw continued success with productions including Affairs of State (1952), Book of the Month(1954), The Reluctant Debutante (1955) and Breath of Spring (1958) which featured Joan Sims, star of numerous Carry On films.
The 1960s saw the hugely successful Billy Liar starring Albert Finney which ran for two years. In 1963, a revival of The Merry Widow enjoyed a brief run before musical impresario Harold Fielding’s enormously successful production of Half a Sixpence arrived starring Tommy Steele for a run of 678 performances.
In late 1964, the Neil Simon musical Little Me opened, starring Avril Angers opposite Bruce Forsyth, who played no fewer than eight roles and then in 1965 Ingrid Bergman and Michael Redgrave starred in A Month In The Country.
The late 1960s saw mixed fortunes for the Cambridge with productions such as The Desert Song and The Magistrate interspersed with further periods of use as a cinema.
Brighter times returned in the 1970s with a successful National Theatre transfer of Hedda Gabler starring Maggie Smith, before the return of Ingrid Bergman in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion. The production also featured Kenneth Williams, who stole the show despite not appearing until act two. Another famous name, Ian McKellen, starred here as Hamlet following a UK tour and then comedy legends Peter Cook and Dudley Moore brought their highly acclaimed Behind The Fridge to the theatre.
In 1972, pop impresario and horse racing enthusiast Larry Parnes took over the theatre’s lease. His years at the helm would prove to be some of the most productive – and innovative – for the venue, with the theatre dark for only one week in the five years following.
After introducing Michael Denison as Pooh Bah with an otherwise all black cast in The Black Mikado (1975), one of Larry Parnes’ bravest moves came in 1976 with the installation of a specially designed ice surface for John Curry Theatre of Skating. Despite great business at the box office, the show was not universally well received with one critic describing it as “ballet in boots”.
Later that year, Jonathan Miller’s production of Chekov’s Three Sisters received a far more positive critical response and demand for tickets led to a further extension of the season and resulted in one of the most commercially successful revivals of a Chekhov play in the West End.
That same year, the Kander & Ebb musical Chicago arrived in its first of many visits to London’s West End, running for 590 performances.
In the 1980s, Joan Collins starred in The Last of Mrs Cheyney and then another American import arrived in the form of New Orleans musical One Mo’ Time.
The theatre went through another difficult patch in the mid-80s and in May 1984 the impresario Charles Mather took a five year lease on the Cambridge with the aim of renaming the theatre the Magic Castle and presenting spectacular Vegas-style magic shows. Mather also planned to change the facade to something resembling a set from a Walt Disney film. The first production was called Magic Touch, which opened in December 1984. However, the show unfortunately didn’t have a magic touch and the whole concept failed soon afterwards.
Use of the theatre was then complicated by the lease then being held on to by bankers while negotiations were conducted in an attempt to split ownership of the theatre between various holding companies. It was eventually bought by Stoll Moss Theatres in 1986, who refurbished the building and restored the interior to something approaching its original 1930s splendour under the supervision of set & costume designer Carl Toms. The Theatre reopened with a musical version of Peter Pan in November 1987, starring Lulu as Tinkerbell.
The next production at the Cambridge was another Kander & Ebb musical, The Rink. Though loved by many, it was critically mauled and closed after just 38 performances. The next productions, Iolanthe and The Yeoman of the Guard presented by the New D’Oyly Carte Company, and Budgie starring Adam Faith and Anita Dobson, fared somewhat better.
The Cambridge’s mixed fortunes continued to the end of the 1980s with the critically panned Sherlock Holmes – The Musical by Leslie Bricusse, starring Ron Moody also suffering under a prolonged tube strike before a hit finally arrived in the form of rock’n’roll ‘Jukebox’ musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, which combined Shakespeare’s The Tempest with sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. The show won the 1989 Olivier Award for Best Musical, beating the favourite Miss Saigon, and ran for the next three years (and returned again later for another short run).
Undeterred by his time as Sherlock Holmes, Ron Moody returned in 1994 in a modern spin on Peter Pan – The British Musical. The following year, Fame – The Musical arrived for its first stay (it would return in 2001/2) before Grease, which had transferred from the Dominion, made the Cambridge its home for the next three years.
In 2000, the venue was acquired by Andrew Lloyd Webber who staged the West End premier of his musical, The Beautiful Game. Set against the troubles in Northern Ireland, and with a book by Ben Elton, this was perhaps the first footballing musical in the West End (before Bend It Like Beckham came to the Phoenix Theatre), but the show ran for just over a year – modest by Lloyd Webber’s standards.
In 2002, the Madness musical, Our House, opened to mixed reviews. Despite being hugely well received within the industry (it won Best New Musical) and possessing brilliant staging and a stunning central performance by Michael Jibson, the show closed after just 10 months.
In 2003, the hugely controversial Jerry Springer The Opera transferred here from the National Theatre. The show was broadcast on national television, prompting 45,000 complaints to the BBC, including from Christian groups claiming that the show was blasphemous.
A less contentious show followed in 2005 when Derren Brown’s Something Wicked This Way Comes tour enjoyed a month-long residency, and in the same year Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group took 100% ownership of the venue.
The Motown musical Dancing in the Streets was next here, running from 2005-6 before the hugely successful revival of Chicago transferred here from the Adelphi Theatre, running until 2011.
The next arrival would become the longest running production in the theatre’s history – Matilda the Musical. The show was due to open on 18th October 2011, but a week’s delay still allowed almost a month of previews, and the show officially opened on 22nd November 2011 and continues to this day.
One final note for our more seasoned readers. For many years the Cambridge Theatre’s Stage Door, situated on Shelton Street, was opposite the famous Actor’s Club Macready’s, named after the Actor and Theatre Manager William Charles Macready. It was a popular hangout for Actors, Stage Managers and their friends and colleagues. The club was hugely popular and ran for many years until it was finally vacated in the 1980s.
The Cambridge Theatre is currently owned and run by LW Theatres.
- Dancing in the Streets
- Derren Brown: Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Jerry Springer: The Opera
- Our House
- Fame The Musical
- The Beautiful Game
Disclaimer: 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.