Current show: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
First previewed: 7th June 2016
Booking until: 25th June 2023
Running time: Part One – 2h 40m including interval and Part Two – 2h 35m including interval
Address: 113 Shaftesbury Theatre, London W1D 5AY
Air Conditioning: No
Current Owner: Nimax Theatres
Box Office: +44 (0) 330 333 4813
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 330 333 4813 (calls charged)
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7434 0088
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) 844 482 5140 (calls charged)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org – more information is available on the Nimax Theatres Website.
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square
Buses: Number 14, 19, 24, 29, 38, 40, 176
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
Luxury: The Covent Garden Hotel, 10 Monmouth Street, London, WC2H 9HB
Mid: Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, 20 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9HD
Budget: The Z hotel Soho, 17 Moor St, Soho, London W1D 5AP
The Palace Theatre dominates the junction of Cambridge Circus, where Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue meet in the heart of London’s West End.
The building was designed by Richard D’Oyly Carte (producer of Gilbert & Sullivan’s famous operettas) with architect Thomas Edward Collcutt, to drawings by G H Holloway. J G Buckle acted as consultant. The theatre was originally intended to stage English grand opera. The foundation stone was laid by D’Oyly Carte’s wife, Helen Carte Boulter, in 1888 – the year they married. The stone can still be seen at ground level, to the right of the main entrance on the theatre’s façade.
The theatre opened on 31st January 1891 as the Royal English Opera House. The theatre’s design was innovative, using heavy steel cantilevers built into the back walls. This allowed the auditorium to be built without supporting pillars. Much of the building was constructed in concrete to reduce the risk of fire.
The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe which ran for over 150 performances. No expense was spared, with a double cast and lavish scenic effects ensuring that the audience was suitably awed. However, D’Oyly Carte’s ambition greatly exceeded his strategic planning, and his new venture brought failure swiftly on the heels of success.
The theatre’s second production was André Messager’s La Basoche. This enjoyed a shorter run and when it closed, D’Oyly Carte had no other shows lined up to fill the theatre. In Sir Henry Wood’s biography, he recalls “[If] Carte had had a repertory of six operas instead of only one…he would have established English opera in London for all time”.
With D’Oyly Carte forced to sell the theatre he had created, Sarah Bernhardt took on the lease for a season while a buyer was sought. The theatre was eventually sold at a considerable loss, to the new Palace Theatre Company. Architect Walter Emden was commissioned to convert the opera house into a grand music hall, reopening as the Palace Theatre of Varieties.
Under its new identity and with new management, the theatre finally began to find its feet. It was managed first by Sir Augustus Harris, whose opening programme included a lavish ballet with music by Gasto Serpette and a host of Variety turns. Harris delegated the day to day running of the theatre to Charles Morton, an experienced theatre and music hall manager known as the ‘Father of the Halls’. It was said that while D’Oyly Carte built the theatre, Morton gave it a soul.
Along with the biggest names in Variety, Morton also introduced a series of ‘tableaux vivants’ – human recreations of classic paintings. These proved hugely popular with audiences despite (or perhaps as a result of) courting controversy, with flesh toned body stockings giving the impression of full nudity on stage.
In March 1897, the theatre began screening films from the American Biograph Company as part of a varied programme of entertainment. Films and early newsreels were often combined with live acts such as dancing girls.
When Charles Morton departed in 1904, he was succeeded by his deputy, Alfred Butt. Butt introduced new talent including dancers Maud Allan and Anna Pavlova and the singer/pianist Margaret Cooper.
In 1907, the first British wildlife film ever screened for a paying audience played here. In Birdland was filmed by Oliver G Pike, a British naturalist and author – the David Attenborough of his day. Some of Pike’s original footage still exists and can be seen courtesy of the BFI.
In 1908, Emblin Walker was engaged to rebuild the amphitheatre. The Palace Theatre of Varieties now had another important place in the history of cinema. It was here on 26th February 1909 that the British public first saw Kinemacolor. A programme of 21 short colour films were shown at the Palace Theatre – the first commercial colour screening anywhere in the world.
Between 1900 and 1920, the theatre’s musical director was Anglo-Dutch composer Herman Finck. In 1911, Finck composed a piece called Tonight for the ‘Palace Girls’. The piece, also known as In The Shadows, is most famous today for being one of the final pieces played to entertain the unfortunate souls aboard Titanic.
1911 also marked a change of name, with the theatre dropping “Of Varieties” to become simply The Palace Theatre.
In 1912, the Palace Theatre became the first theatre to host the Royal Variety Performance, commanded by King George V. This required the hand of fate – Edward Moss had intended the show to be performed at the Empire, Edinburgh whilst the Court was in Scotland. However, when the Empire burned down, the performance was moved to London.
The inaugural Royal Variety Performance was produced by the theatre’s manager, Alfred Butt – at the time of writing this remains the only time it has been staged here at the Palace.
During the First World War, the theatre continued to present revues and it was here in 1917 that Maurice Chevalier was introduced to British audiences.
After the war, for several years the theatre was used primarily as a cinema. Then, in 1925, musical comedy No, No, Nanette opened, beginning the ‘era of musicals’ for which the theatre would become best known. The show ran for 665 performances, making it the third longest-running West End musical of the decade. It was followed in 1926 by Princess Charming which also ran for a respectable 362 performances. Then, in 1927, the Palace Theatre played home to Rodgers and Hart’s The Girl Friend.
The Marx Brothers appeared here in 1931, performing scenes from their famous Broadway shows and then in 1933, Fred Astaire stepped out in his final stage musical, Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce.
The theatre faced demolition twice in the early 1930s when an American chain attempted to purchase the site for a department store. Fortunately, the theatre’s directors led by C B Cochran would not sell, despite reportedly receiving an offer of £450,000 (£36 million today).
In 1939, Jack Hulbert starred in a musical he had co-written with Vivian Ellis called Under Your Hat. Hulbert co-starred with his wife, Cicely Courtneidge with whom he had shared a long on-stage partnership. Under Your Hat ran for 512 performances.
During World War II, a revival of popular musical comedy Chu Chin Chow played here for two seasons, pausing only for The Blitz. The theatre remained open for much of the remainder of the war, with productions including Full Swing, Hi-de-Hi and Something In The Air.
The post-war years welcomed the Grieg-inspired operetta Song of Norway, opening in 1946 and running for 525 performances.
The decade ended with Ivor Novello’s King’s Rhapsody which opened on 15th September 1949 and ran for an impressive 841 performances. It was during the show’s run that, on 6th March 1951, aged just 58, Novello died of a heart attack hours after his performance in the show.
After King’s Rhapsody closed in 1951, another national treasure, George Formby, appeared here in Zip Goes A Million. The show ran for 18 months before making way for Anna Neagle in Glorious Days.
In 1956, Bertolt Brecht directed his great play Mother Courage and her Children here at the Palace Theatre. This was followed in 1957 by The Entertainer with a cast including Laurence Olivier and Dorothy Tutin.
In 1960, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song opened. This was followed in 1961, by another show from the same team – The Sound of Music. The show ran for a staggering 2,385 performances.
The 1960s continued as a decade of musicals, including 110 in the Shade and The Desert Song. Then, in 1958, the Palace Theatre staged the West End premiere of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Based on John Van Druten’s play I Am A Camera (which itself was based on Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood), Cabaret confirmed the star quality of Judi Dench.
In 1970, Danny La Rue’s revue Danny at the Palace ran for 811 performances.
From 1972 to 1980, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar ran here. The show revolutionised British musical theatre and established Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice as one of the great song writing teams of the genre.
In 1980, a Cameron Mackintosh/Leicester Haymarket revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!played here, using the original Agnes de Mille choreography.
In 1982, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance opened. Combining dance piece “Variations” starring Wayne Sleep and “Tell Me on a Sunday” starring Marti Webb, the show ran until 1984. The run of Song & Dancecoincided with the purchase of the theatre by Lloyd Webber himself and began a series of renovations.
1985 marked the arrival of a show which would play here for the next 19 years, Les Misérables. The show, which had opened at the Barbican Theatre, brought the RSC’s cast into the West End. This included Colm Wilkinson, Roger Allam, Patti LuPone, Frances Ruffelle and Michael Ball.
The production has changed a great deal since it opened in the West End. Fortunately, an audio recording still exists demonstrating the power and beauty of the show in those early days at the Palace Theatre.
The show ran here until 2003, when it moved along Shaftesbury Avenue to the Queen’s Theatre (now the Sondheim Theatre). Between 1989 and 91, during the run of Les Misérables, Lloyd Webber carried out a major refurbishment of the theatre, including the full restoration of the magnificent terracotta exterior.
After the departure of Les Misérables, Lloyd Webber restored the auditorium, removing paint covering the original onyx and Italian marble.
In August 2004, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White opened. The cast included Michael Crawford as Count Fosco. At the end of 2004, Crawford was taken it. It transpired that the fat-suit Crawford was required to wear caused excess sweating and Crawford was forced to withdraw from the production. He was replaced by Michael Ball and later Simon Callow. The show underwent major revisions during its run, but closed in 2006 after failing to recover from initial poor reviews.
The Woman in White was followed in 2006 by a short run of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Whistle Down the Wind. The show featured Tim Rodgers as ‘The Man’ and was produced by Bill Kenwright.
Monty Python’s Spamalot followed in 2006, running until January 2009. The show starred Tim Curry as King Arthur and Hannah Waddingham as The Lady of the Lake.
Spamalot was followed in March 2009 by Priscilla Queen of the Desert, starring Jason Donovan. The show ran until December 2011.
From February 2012 until July 2013, the Palace Theatre was home to Singin’ in the Rain. During this time, the theatre was purchased from Lloyd Webber by Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer, becoming the sixth theatre in the Nimax Theatres family.
The first show of the Nimax era was The Commitments. This musical version of the 1991 Roddy Doyle film was based on Doyle’s original 1987 novel and made a West End star of Killian Donnelly. The Commitments ran from 2013-2015.
After The Commitments, Illusionist Derren Brown and comedian Eddie Izzard played short engagements. Then, on 7th June 2016, world-famous wizard Harry Potter flew into Cambridge Circus, transforming the Palace Theatre into the magical realm of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The show would become one of the hottest tickets in West End history, winning a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards, before opening on Broadway and worldwide. Performances were suspended in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Palace Theatre became one of the first West End theatres to reopen when, in 2016, Adam Kay brought his show This Is Going to Hurt for a weeklong engagement.
On 14th October 2021, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child returned after a 19-month hiatus and continues to work its magic on audiences today.
The Palace Theatre was Grade II* listed by English Heritage in June 1960. In 1977 the theatre featured in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang and in the 2004 novel Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler.
The Palace Theatre seats approximately 1,400.
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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.
London Theatres by Michael Coveney & Peter Dazeley, is available from Waterstones and Amazon and provides stunning photography and commentary on London’s iconic theatres.