Her Majesty's Theatre
Current Show: The Phantom of the Opera
First previewed: 30th September 1986
Booking until: 4th March 2023
Running time: 2h 30m including interval
Address: Haymarket, London SW1Y 4QL
Air Conditioning: Yes
Current Owner: LW Theatres
Box Office: +44 (0) 20 7087 7762
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 20 7087 7762
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7850 8750
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: Call +44 (0) 20 7087 7966
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Buses: Number 6, 13, 15, 23, 139, 159, 453
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
Her Majesty’s Theatre stands where Charles II Street meets Haymarket in the City of Westminster. It is the fourth theatre on this site. Prior to 1703, the site was occupied by horse stables, before being acquired by dramatist and architect John Vanbrugh for the sum of £2,000.
Vanbrugh’s intention was to break the monopoly that London’s patent theatres had on the presentation of drama, and to allow playwrights and actors a fairer share of box office revenue. At the time, spoken dramas (without music) were prohibited by law in all except two ‘patent theatres’. Letters patent had been issued by Charles II exclusively to the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company. For this reason, the first theatre to open here, known initially as the ‘Queen’s Theatre’, with permission from Queen Anne, was opened as an opera house.
Money for the construction of a theatre was raised by ‘subscription of thirty persons of quality’ – the early 18th Century equivalent of crowdfunding. Vanbrugh’s principal associates in the venture were William Congreve (a Restoration playwright and poet) and Thomas Betterton (an actor and theatre manager).
The first theatre opened as the Queen’s Theatre on 14th December 1704 with the opera Gli amori d’Ergasto (The Loves of Ergasto) by Jakob Greber. Regrettably, the scale of the auditorium meant that acoustics were challenging, with some performers struggling to be heard. In the theatre’s early years, further problems arose due to Vanbrugh’s distraction by another of his projects, the construction of Blenheim Palace, leaving him unable to commit sufficient time to the theatre.
By 1707, with losses already mounting, Vanbrugh had little choice but to sell on the lease. It was purchased by Irish theatre impresario and art dealer, Owen Swiny. In the same year, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office officially decreed that no non-musical plays could be staged here, limiting the theatre to operas and other musical entertainment. As a result, losses continued to mount until eventually, a debt-ridden Swiny was forced to flee abroad to escape his creditors.
In 1714, the building was renamed as The King’s Theatre to mark the accession to the throne of King George I.
From 1719, John James Heidegger assumed management of the theatre, extending the building and creating a ‘Royal Academy of Music’, with donations from wealthy patrons allowing George Frideric Handel to present over 25 original operas. Handel and Heidegger became partners in the management of the theatre from 1729 to 1734.
In the 1760s, continuing its association with the great composers, J S Bach travelled here to present the premieres of three operas, including Orione. Bach’s work was so successful that he was soon appointed master of music to Queen Charlotte.
By 1778, the lease had passed to James Brook, from whom is was then acquired by Thomas Harris and Richard Brinsley Sheridan for the sum of £22,000. Harris had been stage manager of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Sheridan, an Irish Politian and satirist is best known today for his plays The Rivals and The School for Scandal. Sadly, despite making many improvements to the building, like many before them, Sheridan and Harris were soon struggling to make the theatre turn a profit. Eventually, Sheridan bought out Harris with a mortgage of £12,000.
A former member of the theatre’s company, Giovanni Gallini, purchased the mortgage and soon, Sheridan was declared bankrupt. Despite this, Sheridan fought to remain in control of the theatre, but eventually his remaining share was bought by his lawyer, William Taylor.
In 1782, the theatre was remodelled under the creative tutelage of Michael Novosielski, a former scene painter here. The following year, a debt-ridden Taylor was arrested and forced to sell his portion of the theatre. A period of bitter in-fighting followed, with trustees and creditors wrangling for control of the theatre and by 1785, the Lord Chamberlain had taken control, running the theatre on behalf of creditors.
Gallini was now managing the theatre, with Novosielski controlling many of the box office receipts. Without access to the kind of funds needed to keep a professional theatre afloat, Gallini came to rely on amateur performers to keep productions on – often resulting in less than favourable reviews and vocal protests from disgruntled audiences unafraid to show their displeasure.
On the evening of 17th June 1789, a fire started on the roof, destroying the theatre. Arson was suspected, with Gallini offering a £300 reward for the capture of the culprit. It is rumoured that the husband of a performer, Signora Carnivali, confessed on his deathbed to starting the fire, but two centuries later, this is hard to verify.
A second theatre was completed in 1791. The King’s Theatre (as it was initially known) was built for William Taylor, this time with Novosielski as architect. The theatre included a stone basement, with Doric Pillars, entablature and pediment in the classical style. However, these features of the building were limited to one facet of the new theatre, with much of the rest of the building described by one reviewer as ‘vile and absurd’.
This new theatre’s fortunes were hardly improved by complications around the land on which it stood. This was now enlarged, stretching across leases held by four different landowners. The theatre was due to open with a song and dance entertainment, on 26th March 1791. However it is unclear whether or not the public were actually admitted, due to licensing issues. In August 1792, a General Opera Trust Deed was finally signed, with management of the theatre transferring to a trust of noblemen hand-picked by the Prince of Wales. However, this was never finalised, and the theatre and its management ultimately reverted to Taylor.
The first public performance of an opera, with permission finally granted by the Lord Chamberlain, took place on 26thJanuary 1793. At the time, this was the largest theatre in England. Until 1794, it provided a temporary home for the company of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane who were displaced while their theatre was being rebuilt.
In 1793, several small properties beside the theatre had been demolished to make way for a concert hall. Over the following two years, Joseph Haydn gave a number of concerts here of his famous symphonies.
In 1806, the first London performance of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito was given and this was followed by Cosi Fan Tutte, Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni.
Between 1816-18, John Nash and George Repton altered the façade of the building and increased the capacity to 2,500. At the same time, a small shopping arcade, the Royal Opera Arcade, was added at the rear of the theatre. This still exists and can be accessed from Charles II Street; this hidden gem provides a charming haven from the local hustle and bustle.
Between 1818-20, British premieres of Rossini operas including the Barber of Seville and Tancredi were staged here. From this time, the theatre became known as the Italian Opera House, Haymarket.
In 1821, Bookseller John Ebers took over as manager of the theatre, staging another seven London premieres of Rossini operas. He also presented several seasons of ballet. Then, in 1824, Ebers sublet the theatre to Giambattista Benelli. Despite continuing to stage Rossini’s operas, soon, huge financial losses began to mount and finally, Benelli disappeared leaving the orchestra and composer unpaid. Ebers tried to salvage the situation, engaging world famous soprano Giuditta Pasta for the following season, but lawsuits and a huge increase in rents forced Ebers to admit defeat and retreat to the safer world of bookselling.
The next manager was French actor and impresario Pierre François Laport, who, despite a hiatus in 1831-33, remained in charge from 1828 until his death in 1841. Laporte continued the tradition of presenting Rossini operas, which were soon followed by British premieres of works by Bellini and Donizetti.
In 1837, with a newly crowned monarch, Victoria, the theatre changed name yet again. Accounts vary as to whether the theatre now became ‘His’ or ‘Her Majesty’s Theatre, but in either case, it also seems to have kept the name ‘Italian Opera House’ – and it was also informally referred to as ‘Queen’s Theatre at the Haymarket’).
In the 1840s, the theatre also began to present Shakespeare plays. However, possibly the most dramatic event of Laporte’s tenure came at the start of the decade, when operatic diva Giulia Grisi led the company and audience in an uprising which became a full on-stage riot. This followed a decision by Laporte to replace a popular baritone, Antonio Tamburini with another singer, Filippo Coletti.
Also in the 1840s, famed Irish actor and writer Dion Boucicault saw five of his plays performed here.
When Laporte died suddenly in 1841, he was succeeded by his solicitor Benjamin Lumley who had been heavily involved in decisions affecting the theatre. The board trusted Lumley’s decisions and saw him as a safe pair of hands. Lumley continued the tried and tested formula, presenting Donizetti’s late operas Don Pasquale and La Fille du Régiment, and several Verdi operas including Nabucco. In 1847, Lumley brought in world-renowned Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. Lind made her London debut in Meyerbeer’s Roberto and later sung for Queen Victoria herself in Bellini’s Norma.
This period also ushered in the era of the romantic ballet. The theatre’s resident ballet company became renowned as one of the finest in Europe under ballet master Jules Perrot. Other ballet masters also created works here, including Paul Taglioni, who staged Electra which, in 1849, was the first ballet ever to use electric lighting on stage.
In the same year that Lind appeared here, a dispute between Lumley and the theatre’s principal conductor, Michael Costa, saw Costa leave, taking the entire opera company with him to the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. This operatic exodus saw the theatre eventually drop the name ‘Italian Opera House’, becoming known solely as Her Majesty’s Theatre.
In July 1850, the theatre created yet more headlines when it hosted appearances by black Cuban guitarist and singer, Donna Maria Martinez. Although Martinez received praise for her performance, she also attracted some objections to her performance based solely on race.
Another notable incident occurred at a performance of a new opera by Felix Mendelssohn. In the presence of royalty, a stampede into the theatre meant that many arrived ‘with dresses crushed and torn and coats hanging in shreds.’
After the earlier departure of the opera company to Covent Garden, Her Majesty’s theatre struggled on, but in 1852 dwindling returns forced its closure. It would not reopen until 1856, when a fire closed the theatre in Covent Garden. This allowed Her Majesty’s Theatre to present opera once again – La Traviata in 1856 and Luisa Miller in 1858.
From 1862 to 1867, English opera impresario James Henry Mapleson became theatre manager. Then, in 1867, tragedy struck once again fire broke out, possibly caused by an overheating stove, destroying the theatre. Only the walls were left, with extensive damage to the interior and to shops in nearby Pall Mall and Charles Street. Ballet in London was effectively ended, with ballet masters Perrot, Saint-Léon and Taglioni all departing for the Tsar’s Imperial Ballet, St Petersburg.
A third theatre, called Her Majesty’s Theatre and this time costing £50,000, was built within the shell of the old building. It was built for British landowner and benefactor William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley. Designed by Charles Lee and Sons with their partner, William Pain, the building was constructed by George Trollope and Sons. New fire safety features were introduced into the new design, along with a new four-tier auditorium, capable of seating 1890 or, with orchestra pit removed, 2,500. Building began in 1868, with the theatre completed the following April, 1869.
A legal dispute between Lord Dudley and previous manager Mapleson, plus declining audiences for ballet, meant that the theatre would not reopen to the public for several years. In fact, the building stayed dark until 1874, when it was purchased by a Revivalist Christian group for £31,000. It was then used for several years for Evangelical meetings, often featuring the hymns of Moody and Sankey. Although recreated in a different setting, the following clip gives a sense of what it may have been like to experience these events (the actor is Dave Willetts, who also appeared here in The Phantom of the Opera).
In 1878, the building was returned to use as a theatre, with Mapleson returning to manage the venue. Many of the interior fittings had been removed and £6,000 was needed to refit the building ready to receive audiences. The first audiences were finally welcomed on 28th April 1877 to a production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. This was followed on 22nd June 1878 by the London premiere of Bizet’s Carmen.
Several opera seasons followed, including those of the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and later, in 1882, the London premieres of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
By the late 1880s, Mapleson’s productions were losing their lustre, with critics commenting that changing audiences and below-calibre singers meant that the ‘standard of performance was extremely low.’ The final opera staged here was Rigoletto, on 25th May 1889. Final uses for the theatre included a Sarah Bernhardt season, a boxing tournament and a Christmas Pantomime, after which, with the Dudley family’s sub-lease due to expire, a decision was taken to demolish the theatre. The building was finally demolished in 1892.
Technological advances had begun to offer new possibilities to the theatrical world, and the Commissioners of Woods, Forests and Revenues (predecessors to the Crown Estate) had plans to redevelop the entire block on which the theatre stood. The only part of the block to survive from that time is the Royal Arcade, which you can still walk along in the alley behind the current theatre.
The third theatre, along with the buildings around it, was finally demolished in 1892. Architect Charles J Phipps was commissioned to design a brand new theatre, as well as a hotel. By February 1896, an agreement had been signed with actor/manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree to begin construction of a new theatre at the cost of £55,000 (over £8 million today). Phipps’ plans were approved the following year, with building work commencing shortly afterwards.
Much of the construction cost was met with profits generated by Tree’s other theatre, just across the street – the Theatre Royal Haymarket. J Emblin Walker was Clerk of Works for the project. Sadly, Phipps died within weeks of the theatre’s grand opening in April 1897 – the same year as Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
The theatre’s interior was designed by W H Romaine-Walker, an English architect and interior decorator. The auditorium was designed in the Louis XIV style, with marble columns and cerise silk embroidery. Lighting was fully electric.
The remainder of the previous theatre’s site would later become The Carlton Hotel, which was lost due to catastrophic bomb-damaged in 1940 and replaced by the 1960s New Zealand House.
Tree not only owned and managed Her Majesty’s theatre, he also lived here, entertaining in style, having installed a banqueting hall and living room in the theatre’s huge square dome.
The theatre was designed as a twin to the adjacent Carlton Hotel and restaurant (now the site of New Zealand House). Each building reached a height of four storeys, topped by attic rooms above. These were surmounted by large squared domes in the French Renaissance style.
Above the main entrance canopy, the theatre has a colonnade at the first floor façade in the Corinthian style. This forms a loggia in front of the theatre’s circle foyer. The theatre’s interior was designed by W H Romain-Walker and was in turn heavily influenced by Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s design of the Royal Opera Versailles. The stalls are at ground level, with two cantilevered tiers above accommodating what were then known as the Dress Circle and Family Circle. Upon opening, the theatre seated 1,319 – today this has been reduced to a more modest 1,210.
The theatre opened on on 28th April 1897 with Gilbert Parker’s The Seats of the Mighty and although the new Her Majesty’s Theatre continued to stage operas, its new repertoire was far more dramatic.
In 1901, the theatre’s name changed, becoming His Majesty’s Theatre to reflect the accession of King Edward VII. Shortly afterward, Tree appeared as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Sarah Bernhardt appeared in a series French dramas including Rostand’s L’Aiglon.
In the early years of the 20th Century, Beerbohm Tree staged lavish productions of Shakespeare and Molière classics as well as adaptations of novels by Dickens and Tolstoy. Premieres of work by major contemporary writers included plays by Noël Coward and J B Priestley.
Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s productions were legendary, often featuring elaborate sets, effects and scenery – even real grass and live animals on stage. In 1904, Tree founded the world famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) here, before its move to Gower Street/Malet Street in fashionable Bloomsbury the following year. RADA graduates were often welcomed straight into Tree’s company at His Majesty’s Theatre.
From September 1907, with Tree touring America, Oscar Asche took over the theatre’s management.
In 1911, the theatre staged a Coronation Gala Performance for King George V, and in 1914 it was here that Tree presented the English language premiere of Shaw’s Pygmalion, casting himself as Henry Higgins opposite Mrs Patrick Campbell (with whom Shaw had become romantically involved) as Eliza Doolittle.
During the First World War, musical comedy Chu Chin Chow became a hit with a public much in need of entertainment. The show ran for 2,238 performances – a West End record which stood for nearly 40 years until Salad Days took Chu Chin Chow’s crown. Sadly Herbert Beerbohm Tree died during the show’s run.
Following Tree’s death, Joseph Benson bought the theatre, appointing George Grossmith and J A E Malone as managers.
After Tree’s death, His Majesty’s theatre continued to prove popular with large-scale musical productions. It was here on 21st September 1927 that George and Ira Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! had its London premiere, starring Gertrude Lawrence. This was followed in 1929 by Noël Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet.
The 1930s saw John Gielgud appear in J B Priestley’s The Good Companions and Tree’s widow, Helen Maud Holt (Lady Tree) appear in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Later that same decade, Ivor Novello and Vivien Leigh starred together in The Happy Hypocrite and Peggy Ashcroft starred in Edward My Son.
In 1939, the theatre staged a production of Idiot’s Delight and in 1943, Franz Láhar’s The Merry Widow brought much needed escapism to the war weary London.
In 1945, the theatre was acquired by the Prince Littler Group, with Littler setting up office in Tree’s famous Dome Room.
In the post war years, several major Broadway productions transferred here including Follow the Girls, Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. Then, in December 1958, a show arrived from New York which would change the face of musical theatre forever – West Side Story, in a production featuring George Chakiris and Chita Rivera.
In the 1960s, shows included The Pirates of Penzance, Bye Bye Birdie and Lock Up Your Daughters. Then, in 1967, Topol starred in Fiddler on the Roof in a production would run for an incredible 2,030 performances.
In the 1970s, notable productions included Stephen Sondheim’s Company, starring Elaine Stritch, Pippin, featuring Paul Jones and Patricia Hodge, and Hair – a recreation of the Shaftesbury Theatre production following the collapse of the Shaftesbury Theatre’s roof. Later the same decade, André Previn’s musical The Good Companions premiered here starring John Mills and Judi Dench, followed by a musical collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, Jeeves. Jeeves (now better known as By Jeeves) was relatively unsuccessful, but has since enjoyed better fortunes after drastic rewrites. Anyone who attended the show in 1975 might recognise several of the melodies which have since found their way into shows such as Song & Dance and Sunset Boulevard.
In 1975, South African cultural spectacular Ipi Tombi ran here for 18 months, before transferring to the Cambridge Theatre. In the same year Ipi Tombi opened, Her Majesty’s became a Stoll Moss theatre.
Other shows of the 1970s included Amnesty International benefit A Poke in the Eye (With a Sharp Stick) which was later broadcast as Pleasure at Her Majesty’s. The show was organised by John Cleese. Several more followed, known as The Secret Policeman’s Balls, featuring artists such as Peter Cook and Rowan Atkinson.
In 1980, Julia McKenzie starred in the Coleman/Comden/Green musical On the Twentieth Century and in 1983/4, Bugsy Malone brought the stage version of Alan Parker’s 1976 musical film to Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Between 1983 and 1988, the venue was used for popular ITV television series Live from Her Majesty’s. It was during one live broadcast, on 15th April 1984, that comedian Tommy Cooper tragically collapsed and died here on stage. At first, the audience thought this was part of Tommy’s act, until it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong. The fact that the whole thing was broadcast live into millions of homes only enhanced the tragedy. Footage exists on YouTube, but we have not included this out of respect for the artist.
On 9th October 1986, a show arrived, which is still playing today (although the production was significantly altered during a pandemic hiatus in 2020/21). Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera featured Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford in performances which would make them global superstars. It is the second longest-running musical in West End history (after Les Misérables). The show has since opened around the world, including as a 2004 film version, and has grossed billions of pounds.
Between 1992 and 1994, with Phantom still running, under the stewardship of Janet Homes à Court, the theatre was completely refurbished, including new toilet facilities and a replacement roof.
In 2000, the Holmes à Court family sold Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Nat West Equity Partners, effectively giving birth to The Really Useful Group (later becoming LW Theatres).
Phantom made use of the theatre’s original Victorian machinery for many of the shows illusions until, in 2020, following the enforced closure of the theatre during the Covid pandemic, the original production was removed, allowing much needed repairs to be made to the theatre’s timber superstructure. Many aspects of the original production returned post-pandemic although some, including some of the orchestra, did not.
Her Majesty’s Theatre undoubtedly benefitted from a rare opportunity to carry out repairs and technical upgrades without the pressure of a production in situ. Some changes had been made to the building in recent decades include an improved sound system (2008) and refurbishment of the auditorium and front of house (2016-18). Post-pandemic, the theatre still preserves its French Renaissance design and luxurious interiors – perfect for a gothic tale with the Opéra Garnier as its setting.
The theatre’s wide stage make it the perfect setting for grand musicals, although with a seating capacity best described as medium-sized by West End standards, seating 1,216 on four levels.
The theatre was purchased from Stoll Moss by Really Useful Theatres Group in January 2000. In 2014, Really Useful Theatres was split off from the Really Useful Group, later becoming LW Theatres. It is LW Theatres which owns the theatre today.
When it was first built, some critics derided the current building’s architecture for failing to reflect its purpose as a theatre. Later critics looked more kindly on Her Majesty’s Theatre, and in January 1970, the building was granted Grade II* listed status.
Today, the 200-year-old Royal Opera Arcade, built by Nash and Repton, is the only part of the older theatres that still survives. It is the earliest example of a London arcade and can be found immediately behind the theatre.
This theatre’s name traditionally changes to reflect the gender of the current monarch. It first became the King’s Theatre in 1714 with the accession to the throne of George I. Then, when Victoria came to the throne in 1837, it was renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre. It reverted to His Majesty’s Theatre from 1901 to 1952, since when it was once again known as Her Majesty’s Theatre. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II it is expected that the theatre will change names once again.
This is the second oldest site in London that remains in continuous use as a theatre, after the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
The building was granted Grade II* listed status in 1970.
The theatre is currently owned by LW Theatres, although this is leased – the land beneath it still belongs to the Crown Estate.
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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.