Current Show: Mamma Mia!
First previewed: 6th September 2012 (first previewed on 23rd March 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre)
Booking until: 4th March 2023
Running time: 2h 35m including interval
Address: 5 Aldwych, London WC2B 4LD
Air Conditioning: Awaiting information
Current Owner: Delfont Mackintosh Theatres
Box Office: +44 (0) 844 482 5170 (call charges apply)
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 844 482 5170 (call charges apply)
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7759 9611
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) 344 482 5137
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tubes: Covent Garden
Buses: Number RV1, X68, 1, 6, 11, 13, 23, 59, 68, 87, 91, 139, 168, 171, 172, 188, 243; (Strand) 4, 9, 15, 26, 76, 176, 341
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
The Novello Theatre is one of a pair of theatres standing either side the Waldorf Hotel. Both theatres were designed by prolific theatre architect W G R Sprague. Construction was carried out by S and J Waring for the Waldorf Theatre Syndicate Ltd and form part of a vast complex consisting of the Waldorf Hotel and the Waldorf Theatre (now the Novello) and the Aldwych Theatres, both with identical exteriors.
The theatre was a part of the ‘Aldwych Reconstruction’ which saw the demolition of many buildings, including four existing theatres. This huge civic project began in the late 19th Century and was not completed until after the end of WWI. The Aldwych itself takes its name from Old Wych Street, one of the area’s original thoroughfares.
The Novello opened on 22nd May 1905 as the Waldorf Theatre under lease to the Shubert Organization. The Shubert Brothers were best known for establishing New York’s theatre district. Their foray into London Theatre coincided with tragedy for the family when one of the brothers, Sam Shubert, was killed in a train accident in Pennsylvania just days before the Waldorf Theatre’s London opening. Lee Shubert took over the running of the theatre following Sam’s death.
Above the proscenium, a relief depicting Apollo in a horse-drawn chariot was surrounded by goddesses and cupids.
The theatre’s interior was in Louis XIV style, with a main staircase in dove and violet marble with wrought iron balustrade. The auditorium’s colour scheme was Rose du Barri (a soft pink) with green highlights in French tapestries throughout the stalls and dress circle.
The Waldorf Theatre’s opening season was eight weeks of opera and drama, featuring the French soprano Emma Calvé and Polish bass Édouard de Reszke. The first performance was an opera by Ferdinand Paer, Il Maestro di Capella. The season also featured the great Italian actress, Eleanora Duse.
When the Avenue Theatre (now known as the Playhouse Theatre) was damaged in the collapse of Charing Cross station’s roof in December 1905, its owner, Cyril Maude moved to the Waldorf Theatre. Here, he presented a season of work from January 1906, staying until his own theatre could be rebuilt. Maude’s productions included The Superior Miss Pellender, The Heir at Law, The Second in Command and Shore Acres, as well as a revival of She Stoops to Conquer.
In 1909, the theatre was taken over by J A Harrison and underwent the first of several name changes, becoming the Strand Theatre. However, just two years later, the theatre changed hands again when it was bought by American manager F C Whitney. Whitney changed the theatre’s name, rather immodestly, to the Whitney Theatre.
Despite his ambition, Whitney’s reign ended in failure and in 1913, control of the theatre passed to Louis Meyer who changed the theatre’s name back to The Strand Theatre. The name would stick for the next 88 years.
The theatre now began to enjoy greater success, with an Anglo-Chinese play titled Mr Wu playing for a year. Mr Wu starred Canadian matinee idol Matheson Lang as Wu Li Chang and became Matheson’s most famous role.
By 1915, World War I saw the theatre under the management of Julia Neilson and Fred Terry (younger brother of famous actress Ellen Terry). On 13th October 1915, this husband-and-wife team had the unenviable task of dealing with a extensive bomb damage to the theatre pit. This was part of a sustained Zeppelin raid during which 19 bombs rained down on the Strand, causing widespread damage (a bomb from the same airship fell in front of the Lyceum Theatre). Despite this, that evening’s performance of The Scarlet Pimpernel still went ahead, with Fred Terry himself in the title role.
At some point between 1917 and 1919, the actor Arthur Bourchier acquired the Strand Theatre’s lease, managing the theatre until 1923 with his wife, actress Violet Marion Kyrle Bellew. There is mystery around Violet’s true identity. Born Violet Marion Annie Falck, Violet claimed to have acted in silent movies in America before beginning her stage career in England in 1914. The name she adopted, Kyrle Bellew, belonged to a male star of silent films, Harold Kyrle Money Bellew, who died in 1911. What is truth and what if any relation they were, is now lost in time!
During Bourchier’s tenure, he appeared as Long John Silver in J B Fagan’s adaptation of Treasure Island. His commute was a short one – Arthur Bourchier and Violet lived in a flat above the theatre, in a neighbouring apartment to another theatrical resident, Ivor Novello.
In 1923, Anna Christie introduced West End audiences to the writing of Eugene O’Neill. The play caused a sensation, with its central character a prostitute trying to turn her life around.
In 1930, the theatre underwent extensive refurbishment. Comedian Leslie Henson and his business partner Firth Shephard leased the theatre. Together, they presented a series of farces. The first, It’s a Boy! was soon followed by It’s a Girl! and later, in 1936, by Aren’t Men Beasts! starring a young John Mills.
Just a year into World War II, the theatre was bombed again. However, just as in the First World War, the actors rallied with the motto “the show must go on”. At the time, Donald Wolfit’s lunchtime productions of Shakespeare continued here, often with actors picking their way to the stage through rubble.
In 1942, dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace opened, becoming the theatre’s (then) longest running show, clocking up an impressive 1337 performances. The show finally closed in March 1946.
A musical based on the life of Samuel Pepys transferred to the Strand Theatre in 1951. And So to Bed featured music by Vivien Ellis in the style of sarabandes and madrigals, with a cast including Keith Michell and Denis Quilley.
In February 1955, long-running comedy Sailor Beware! dropped anchor, staying for 1231 performances and marking Peggy Mount’s West End acting debut as Emma Hornett, the ‘ultimate’ mother-in-law.
In 1958, novelist William Golding adapted his only theatrical play, Brass Butterfly, for production at this theatre. The show, a comedy set in Roman times, starred Alastair Sim and George Cole.
For much of the 20th Century, the Strand Theatre was a venue for comedy and farce. However, in 1960 a notable exception was Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. This absurdist post-war drama featured a central character watching in horror as those around him slowly metamorphosed into rhinoceroses – representing the rise of fascism. The show opened at the Royal Court before transferring to the Strand, with Michael Gough and Maggie Smith taking over from Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright in the lead roles.
Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opened here in 1963. This spoof on the Roman farces of Plautus ran for over two years and featured a cast including Frankie Howerd as mischievous slave Pseudolus, Kenneth Connor as Hysterium and John Pertwee as Marcus Lycus.
The theatre was refurbished again during the 1970s and in 1971 was Grade II listed by English Heritage.
In 1971, No Sex Please, We’re British. This became one of the West End’s most successful ever comedies, opening here and running for over 10 years before transferring to the Garrick Theatre in 1982. During its run, stars appearing included Michael Crawford, David Jason and Andrew Sachs.
1982 saw Tom Stoppard’s touching play The Real Thing premiere here, starring Felicity Kendal and Roger Rees in this semi-autobiographical drama. The play features a playwright involved in an extramarital affair, echoed in Stoppard’s own relationship with Kendal.
Barry Humphries set new box office records in 1987 with more than 200 sold out performances as Dame Edna Everage in Back with a Vengeance!
The mid-1990s marked the arrival of another long-running show. In 1995 Buddy transferred here from a six-year run at the Victoria Palace. It then made the Strand its home for another six and a half years, finally closing on 3rd March 2002 after a combined run of well over 5,000 performances.
After Buddy departed, another show featuring iconic American singers arrived – The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas. This slick tribute paid homage to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin and transferred here from a successful run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The Rat Pack: Live from Las Vegas ran here for a little under two years, before moving along the street in 2005 to the Savoy Theatre.
After the Rat Pack’s departure, the theatre celebrated its centenary with a major refurbishment. This coincided with the theatre’s most recent change of name. What had been the Strand Theatre for 88 years now became the Novello Theatre, named in honour of actor/composer Ivor Novello, who had lived above the theatre from 1913 until his death in 1951. Novello wrote many of his great musicals here.
The theatre reopened on 8th December 2005 with an RSC season of Shakespeare comedies including Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It.
The London premier of Broadway musical Footloose took place in 2006, with a cast including Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz. The show ran for several months before making way for the return of the RSC.
In 2007, Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone made its way across the Atlantic, with a cast including Elaine Paige, Summer Strallen, John Partridge along with the show’s writer Bob Martin. Sadly, the success of the Broadway production was not repeated in London and the show closed after just two months.
Shortly after news of The Drowsy Chaperone’s premature closure, it was announced that a new musical, Desperately Seeking Susan would open later that autumn. The show, based on the 1980s Madonna movie had music by Blondie and Debbie Harry and starred Emma Williams and Kelly Price. Despite a big budget and talented cast, the show received a critical mauling in the press and closed just four weeks after opening night, losing its investors over £3.5 million.
The next show enjoyed more success. Shadowlands starred Charles Dance and Janie Dee, and ran for twelve weeks, transferring here from the Wyndham’s Theatre. The production began as a staged reading in aid of the Nepalese Pahar Trust, and was so well received that a full production followed.
In 2008, Zoonation’s Sondheim-inspired Into the Hoods replaced Stephen Sondheim’s music with urban artists such as Gorillaz, Massive Attack and Basement Jaxxx. The show ran for several months.
Debbie Allen’s steamy production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof transferred here from Broadway in 2009, with James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad reprising their roles from New York production and joined in London by Adrian Lester as Brick.
In 2011, musical comedy Betty Blue Eyes opened. With music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, this stage adaptation of Alan Bennett’s screenplay for A Private Function starred Sarah Lancashire and Rease Sheersmith and an animatronic pig voiced by Kylie Minogue. A particularly moving scene featured a theatre sustaining heavy bomb damage – perhaps waking ghosts of the theatre’s own explosive past.
In September 2012, the long-running Mamma Mia! transferred from the Prince of Wales Theatre. The show has been running in the West End since 1999, and in still going strong, pausing only for the Covid-19 pandemic. The show has now exceeded 9,000 performances in the West End and is still going strong.
The Novello Theatre currently seats approximately 1,100 patrons. Ivor Novello’s flat was “Flat 4, The Aldwych”, directly above the theatre which now bears his name. This is marked with a Blue Plaque beside the door to the four flats, just to the right of the theatre’s main entrance.
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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.