Duke of York's Theatre
Next Show: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
First preview: 26th October 2021 (and previously at the National Theatre)
Booking until: 12th February 2022
Running time: 2h 20m including interval
Address: 104 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4BG
Air Conditioning: Yes
Current Owner: Ambassador Theatre Group
Box Office: +44 (0) 3330 096 690 (operated by ATG Tickets)
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 3330 096 690 (operated by ATG Tickets)
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7836 4615
Access Bookings: Call +44 (0) 800 912 6971
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross
Buses: Number 24, 29 or 176 to Leicester Square
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
Luxury: St Martin’s Lane Hotel, 45 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4HX
Mid: Page8 Hotel 7 – 8 Saint Martin’s Place, London, WC2N 4JH
Budget: Hub by Premier Inn, 110 St Martins Lane, London WC2N 4BA
Originally called the Trafalgar Square Theatre, the Duke of York’s Theatre on St Martin’s Lane (one of the West End’s oldest “proper” streets, dating back to the middle ages) was built for the acting couple Frank Wyatt and Violet Melnotte in an area largely occupied by down-at-heel slums. Violet later became the first proprietor of another Duke of York’s Theatre, this time in Brighton in 1910.
London’s Duke of York’s theatre, designed by architect Walker Emden and constructed by Frank Kirk, backs onto another Walker Emden theatre, The Garrick. The detached building has a frontage of Grimshill and Portland stone with narrow passageways to the left and right, each with wrought iron gate, overthrow and lantern. The dressing rooms are in another building at the rear connected by a short, covered iron bridge.
The painted brick and stone frontage is four storeys in height in three major bays, with a pretty open loggia at first floor level, guarded by a balustrade between Ionic columns. The façade is currently missing its original crowning balustrade above the main cornice but an ornamental iron and glass canopy over the entrances still ensure that theatregoers are protected from the elements as they arrive and depart.
The original interior was cream and gold with yellow tints, with warm russet to the rear of the boxes. Portraits of famous actresses hung in the corridors with the overall effect described as “chaste and refined”. On the upper-circle tier were a large, ornamental vestibule and a pleasant saloon, with a balcony facing St Martin’s Lane.
The Trafalgar Square theatre (as the Duke of York’s then was) opened on Saturday 10th September 1892 with the comic opera The Wedding Eve adapted from the French Le Moutier de Saint-Guignolet / La Veillee de Noces. The production was not a great success, however the theatre itself – the first to be built on St Martin’s Lane – was met with much greater approval.
The theatre’s auditorium was constructed on three levels, stalls, dress circle, and upper circle (with gallery above), with several boxes on all three levels, and the Theatre was unique in that it had real fire places in its auditorium.
The auditorium originally accommodated around 1266 people, albeit to varying degrees of comfort, and was decorated in the French Renaissance style. In the building’s original design, a spacious entrance hall on the dress circle level led to wide staircases down into the stalls. The safety of the audience was increasingly considered with numerous exits; dressing rooms were housed in a separate block linked to the theatre by fireproof passages. Good ventilation and sanitation along with electricity (with a backup gas supply in the event of power outages) throughout the building ensured that despite its Victorian roots, the venue was already looking to a more modern era with the safety of its patrons a priority.
One of the earliest successes was also one of the West End’s first musical comedies, Go-Bang, playing here in 1894. In the same year, the theatre became known as the Trafalgar Theatre – although the new name didn’t last long. The following year, in honour of the future King George V, the theatre finally became the Duke of York’s – the name by which it is known today. Re-opening on 26th September 1895 under lease to Cartwright and Dana, the first new production was Her Advocate.
Two years later, in 1897, the American theatrical manager Charles Frohman, took over the running of the theatre staging successful productions employing American Actors who he exchanged for British ones performing there.
In the summer of 1900, David Belasco’s Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan transferred from New York and was attended by Puccini. The show would become the basis for one of Opera’s most celebrated works, Madame Butterfly, premiering in Milan in 1904.
In 1902, during Frohman’s reign, a production of The Admirable Crichton almost came a cropper when, on opening night, the backstage crew went on strike mid-way through the performance, leaving the actors to shift scenery for themselves.
The Duke of York’s is most closely associated with JM Barrie’s classic play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up which opened here on Tuesday 27th December 1904 starring Nina Boucicault as ‘Peter Pan’, Gerald du Maurier as ‘Mr Darling/Captain Hook’ and George Shelton as ‘Smee’.
The production was a towering success, closing on its 150th performance on Saturday 1st April 1905 with the promise that it would return for another Christmas season the following December. So popular was Peter Pan, that it returned each Christmas until December 1914, after which it was staged at the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) from December 1915. George Shelton played ‘Smee’ for 23 consecutive seasons until his retirement in 1927.
Many famous British actors have appeared here, including Basil Rathbone in Madame Sand in June 1920 and as the Unknown Gentleman in Tonight or Never in November 1932. Other productions in the 1920s included musical comedy Colour Blind and the play Her First Affaire.
Frank Wyatt owned the Theatre until his death in 1926 when his wife, Violet Melnotte took over, eventually selling the Theatre in 1928.
In 1932, the Carl Rosa Opera Company performed Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – especially poignant in the very theatre which had inspired the masterpiece. The decade brought a number of interesting seasons, amongst them, The Ballet Rambert and the notable appearances of Alicia Markova and Andre Dolin which greatly helped to popularise ballet in England, and a season by Paris’ macabre and frequently shocking Grand Guignol.
The Duke of York’s closed in August 1940 after a successful production of the farce High Temperature. Within weeks, bombing raids would become a nightly feature of life in London. Although the East End of London bore the brunt of the blitz, with almost the entire Docklands area levelled, the West End was also badly affected, with several theatres destroyed, performers killed and audiences injured. Over 5,000 tons of bombs fell weekly. Despite being damaged, the Duke of York’s survived, finally reopening in May 1943 when Charles Killick and Tom Arnold took over the theatre, opening their first production there, Shadow and Substance. This was followed by Ibsen’s Ghosts, opening on 25th of June 1943.
In 1950 the theatre underwent complete redecoration to designs by photographer and Oscar–winning stage, film and costume designer Cecil Beaton. The Times praised the adherence to tradition of Beaton’s work as “a job of restoration and conservation…[Beaton] has restored the red plush, the gilding, and the debased rococo ornaments so that they glow and glitter exactly as they must have done to those who came to the theatre in hansom cabs.”
In May of the same year, new management took over the theatre but their arrival unfortunately heralded two of the theatre’s – and theatre world’s – shortest ever runs; All The Year Round opened in October 1951 and ran for just three nights and then, on 17th December 1953 Thirteen for Dinner opened and closed on the same night.
In September 1960, the theatre was Grade II listed by English Heritage. In the decade which followed, successful productions included Goodnight Mrs Puffin starring Irene Handl, The Anniversary, featuring Sheila Hancock and Michael Crawford, The Killing of Sister George with Beryl Reid and Eileen Atkins and The Hotel in Amsterdam with Paul Scofield.
In the 1970s, Beryl Reid returned in the Joe Orton classic Entertaining Mr Sloane. Other notable productions included The Dame of Sark with Anna Neagle, and An Evening with Quentin Crisp featuring the colourful writer, raconteur and actor.
In the late 1970s the freehold of the theatre was purchased by Capital Radio and in 1979 closed for a major refurbishment with the aim of cutting the number of pillars holding up the royal and upper circles. A sound studio was built in the space while supporting beams were inserted; unfortunately despite this work, a number of seats still suffer from a restricted view of the stage. Despite many clever features, architect Walter Emden’s original design created as many problems as it solved, particularly the difficult sight-lines of such a long and narrow theatre. The price paid for the improvement was the introduction of a very deep beam over the gallery which, as a result, is permanently out of use. The 1950s box office added by Cecil Beaton, removed from the foyer at the same time, is now held by the V&A Theatre Collections.
The theatre reopened in February 1980 under the patronage of Capital with the play Rose, starring Glenda Jackson. Other notable productions here have included a nearly 3-year run of Richard Harris’s Stepping Out which opened in September 1984, and Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, which transferred from the Vaudeville Theatre in 1989 and ran for over 2 years.
The Ambassador Theatre Group bought the Duke of York’s in 1992; this coincided with the successful Royal Court production of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, which transferred here in February 1992. A host of successes followed including the 21st anniversary performance of Richard O’Brien’s cult classic The Rocky Horror Show.
In the mid-1990s, the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square (also designed by Walter Emden) was forced to close for rebuilding; the Theatre Downstairs found a home at the Duke of York’s and the Theatre Upstairs moved into an adapted Ambassadors Theatre on West Street. Between October 1995 and March 1996 the Royal Court presented Ron Hutchinson’s Rat in the Skull, Terry Johnson’s Hysteria and David Storey’s The Changing Room as part of a ‘Royal Court Classics’ season here at the Duke of York’s. This was followed by a drastically-rewritten revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Alan Ayckbourn musical, By Jeeves, which opened on 2nd July 1996 and closed on 28th September 1996, transferring to the Lyric Theatre. The Duke of York’s remained a home of The Royal Court for the next four years and was renamed The Royal Court Theatre Downstairs for the duration of their stay.
At the beginning of a new millennium, one of the theatre’s most successful productions arrived, with Marie Jones hit comedy Stones in his Pockets running for almost three years. The decade also saw noteworthy productions of Embers with Jeremy Irons and transfers of Rock’n’Roll with Rufus Sewell and Sinead Cusack and Little Shop of Horrors with Sheridan Smith enjoying popular success.
After acquiring the Duke of York’s, the Ambassador Theatre Group also made the theatre its London headquarters. The building housed the production offices of ATG’s subsidiary Sonia Friedman Productions. It was Friedman’s production, In Celebration, which in 2007 attracted Hollywood A-lister Orlando Bloom to the Duke of York’s stage.
In 2010, the hugely entertaining jump-fest Ghost Stories by Jeremy Dyson/Andy Nyman enjoyed a year-long residency and in 2013, The Judas Kiss featured Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde.
The Theatre’s facade was renovated and repainted in October 2014 when new gold leaf was added, and the signwriting was replaced. A year later, Mark Rylance opened in Farinelli and the King with success continuing throughout the decade in productions such as The Dresser and Mary Stuart, and with Ian McKellen in King Lear.
The Theatre continues to be one of the West End’s most successful playhouses (Coronavirus aside) and is rarely dark.
The Duke of York’s Theatre is run by the Ambassador Theatre Group.
- Blithe Spirit
- Touching the Void
- The Son
- The Girl on the Train
- Home, I’m Darling
- Summer and Smoke
- King Lear
- The Moderate Soprano
- Mary Stuart
- Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour
- The Glass Menagerie
- The Dresser
- How The Other Half Loves
- Doctor Faustus
- The Father
- Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever
- Goodnight Mister Tom
- Farinelli and the King
- Hetty Feather
- The Nether
- Neville’s Island
- Perfect Nonsense
- A Doll’s House
- Passion Play
- The Judas Kiss
- All New People
- Journey’s End
- Ghost Stories
- Bedroom Farce
- Twelfth Night
- Speaking in Tongues
- A View From The Bridge
- Mandy Patinkin in Concert
- No Man’s Land
- Under The Blue Sky
- That Face
- Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo
- Rent: Remixed
- In Celebration
- Little Shop of Horrors
- Eh Joe
- I Am My Own Wife
- Tom, Dick and Harry
- Hedda Gabler
- The Dresser
- Journey’s End
- Dirty Blonde
- The Holy Terror
- Sweet Panic
- After Mrs Rochester
- Stones in his Pockets
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.
London Theatres by Michael Coveney & Peter Dazeley, is available from Waterstones and Amazon and provides stunning photography and commentary on London’s iconic theatres.