Current Show: Cabaret
First previewed: 15th November 2021
Booking until: 28th January 2023
Running time: 2h 45m including interval
Address: Northumberland Ave, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DE
Air Conditioning: Awaiting confirmation
Current Owner: Ambassador Theatre Group
Box Office: +44 (0) 3330 096 690 (calls charged)
Discounts, Day seats, Rush tickets & Lotteries
Box Office: +44 (0) 3330 096 690 (calls charged)
Stage Door: +44 (0) 20 7839 4292
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) 800 912 6971
Society of London Theatre also offers useful information for visitors with a disability or specific access need.
Nearest Tube: Embankment
Buses: 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 23, 24, 87, 88, 91, 139 and 453 stop within a 10 minute walk of the Playhouse Theatre.
Check out Transport for London’s excellent TFL Journey Planner
The Playhouse Theatre is situated at the end of Northumberland Avenue, close to the banks of the river Thames. One of the West End’s older theatres, the Playhouse Theatre opened as the Royal Avenue Theatre on 11th March 1882 with a revival of Offenbach’s operetta Madame Favart.
The Royal Avenue Theatre (sometimes referred to as the Avenue Theatre) was built with an initial capacity of 1,200, for Victorian theatre manager Sefton Henry Parry with lessee Edmund Burke. The theatre’s first manager was M Marius. The architect was F H Fowler of Fowler and Hill with construction carried out by Messrs Kirke and Randall of Woolwich.
The theatre’s early years were dominated by comic opera, burlesque and farce. Popular Music Hall entertainer Arthur Roberts starred in several of these productions.
In the 1890s, the theatre began presenting dramas, including a season of plays starring Florence Farr. These were sponsored anonymously by tea heiress Annie Horniman. The first was unsuccessful; this reportedly prompted Farr to press the then-music critic George Bernard Shaw to make his West End playwriting debut with Arms and the Man.
Christmas 1901 was marked with a production of Gulliver’s Travels. A programme from the time indicates that the theatre was under lease to Frank Curzon.
In 1905, the theatre was being rebuilt to designs by Blow and Billerey. During the work, part of the roof from the adjacent Charing Cross railway station collapsed, causing major structural damage to the theatre’s roof and wall. A large section of the stage was also destroyed. The tragedy took the lives of several workers in the station and theatre and resulted in injuries to many more. Such was the structural damage to Charing Cross station, that reconstruction work inside the theatre could not begin until the station walls had been made safe.
The rebuilding of the theatre was undertaken by Patman and Fotheringham to Blow and Billerey’s designs. During this period, Cyril Maude transferred productions which had been intended to play here to the Waldorf Theatre (now the Novello Theatre).
The building finally re-opened as the Playhouse Theatre on 28th January 1907 with one act play The Drums of Oudh and a play called Toddles. The opening performance included a sketch entitled The Interlude at the Playhouse, written specially for the occasion by George Bernard Shaw.
The new Playhouse had a decreased capacity of 679 – almost half the quantity of seating in the previous theatre.
Productions in the Playhouse Theatre’s early years included Cousin Kate, Dad and The Headmaster, all starring the great English actor-manager Cyril Maude.
Listings for productions between 1914 and 1917 are hard to come by, indicating that the theatre may have fallen dark for much of the First World War.
The English actress and theatrical manager Gladys Cooper became co-manager of the Playhouse alongside Frank Curzon in 1917. She would remain at the Playhouse the next sixteen years, appearing in numerous productions, the first of which was Michael Morton’s The Yellow Ticket.
On 30th August 1919, W Somerset Maugham’s Home and Beauty premièred at the Playhouse, with Gladys Cooper receiving praise for her performance as Victoria. Home and Beauty ran for 235 performances.
Productions in the early 1920s included Up in Mabel’s Room, Love, Magda, and a transfer from the St Martin’s Theatre, Spring Cleaning.
The English actor Henry Daniell appeared here in February 1926 as the Prince of Karaslavia in Mr Abdulla. The following year, Nigel Bruce appeared in Somerset Maugham’s The Letter.
Gladys Cooper would take sole control of the Playhouse from 1927 to 1933, continuing to star in many productions. One of the theatre’s boxes is named in her honour.
The 1930s began with play The White Assegai, followed by Devonshire Cream and the return of Nigel Bruce in Dishonoured Lady.
The next play, opening on 26th June 1930 and running for six months, was Cynara. This featured a large cast, amongst which were the actors Celia Johnson (of Brief Encounter fame) and actor/manager Gerald Du Maurier (father of the novelist Daphne Du Maurier).
In 1933, Raymond Massey and Laurence Olivier starred alongside Gladys Cooper in The Rats of Norway.
Star Wars actor Alec Guinness made his West End debut here in 1934 in the play Libel, transferring here from the old King’s Head Theatre, Hammersmith. This was followed by the return of Henry Daniell in Hurricane.
A series of plays preceded World War II, including Mary Tudor, The Shadow, Whiteoaks and The Shoemaker’s Holiday. The final production listed before the outbreak of war was Only Yesterday by H G Stoker.
After a dark period of several years during the early part of World War II, the Playhouse Theatre returned with the plays Abraham Lincoln by John Drinkwater and The House of Jeffreys by Russell Thorndike. Plays came thick and fast towards the end of the war, including A Soldier for Christmas, Quiet Weekend and Irene Handl in Great Day.
The final play to open during World War II was Lady From Edinburgh which ran from April 1945 until August 1946 with a cast including Dulcie Gray.
In the post-war years, productions included All Over the Town, Cockpit, Calypso, Tobacco Road starring Thora Hird and The Perfect Woman. The decade ended with Murder at the Vicarage, which ran from December 1949 until April 1950 and starred Barbara Mullen as Miss Marple.
The final performance listed prior to a change of use for the Playhouse was a short run of the Mordaunt Shairp play The Green Bay Tree. Controversial for its gay subtext, the show ran from April until June 1950.
In 1951, the theatre was taken over by the BBC and used as a recording studio for live performances of radio shows. These included several episodes of The Goon Show, Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.
During its time as a BBC sound stage, the Playhouse also hosted live performances by artists including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
In 1967, a live concert by Pink Floyd was broadcast from this theatre. The band recorded here again in 1970 – a recording survives, though with Swedish introduction.
The Playhouse also hosted a number of other recording artists including KISS, Led Zeppelin and The Who.
Following the departure of the BBC in 1976, the theatre fell into a state of disrepair and the threat of demolition loomed. Various ideas were proposed, including restoration, conversion or demolition, but no consensus was reached.
After several dark years, in 1981, the site was purchased by Robin Gonshaw. Fortunately, Gonshaw was not only a property developer, but from a theatre-loving family. Through lengthy dialogue with planning authorities, an agreement was finally reached that the Playhouse would remain a theatre but be reconfigured with residential accommodation above. While the auditorium would remain intact, the front of house areas would change and improvements to the foundations would allow an upwards elevation. The impressive Portland stone façade was extended upwards to maintain a synergy between the theatre and new residential units. Stage engineering work, including renovation of the safety curtain, was carried out by engineers P E Kemp Ltd.
In 1986, before it reopened fully as a theatre, rock band Queen used the Playhouse Theatre as the set for the music video of “A Kind of Magic”.
In 1987, The Playhouse finally reopened to the public restored to its full 1907 glory. The first new production in October of that year was the Howard Goodall/ Richard Curtis/Retellack musical Girlfriends. The redesign now included commercial premises, Aria House, located directly above the theatre.
In 1988, the politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer bought the Playhouse for a little over £1 million. Within a year, the theatre had attracted commercial sponsorship from a financial services company and was briefly known as the MI Group Playhouse.
Shows during this time included Nite Club Confidential starring Kathryn Evans and Ruth Madoc, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and an ill-fated transfer from the Theatre Royal Windsor of a show starring Lisa Harrow and Simon Cadell called Double Act which closed early after disappointing sales.
The theatre’s fortunes picked up in spring 1989 with the transfer of The Woman In Black. The show began life in the Lyric Hammersmith before transferring to the West End, first to the Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre) and then here to the Playhouse for a run of six weeks. The show would later move to the Fortune Theatre, where it remains to this day.
Next up was a limited three week run of A Room of One’s Own by Patrick Garland, starring Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf. This was followed by Leo McKern as James Boswell in Boswell for the Defence.
The 1990s began with two transfers from the Theatre Royal Bath; First, John Gay’s Diversions and Delights starring Donald Sinden and then John Logan’s Never the Sinner with a cast including Joss Ackland and Ben Daniels.
The Playhouse played host to the Peter Hall Company in 1991 and enjoyed a number of successes including Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo, starring Julie Walters. Fiona Shaw performed the title role in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in September 1991. Co-incidentally, around this time the theatre’s basement bar was converted into a private restaurant called ‘Shaws’. However, Shaws was unsuccessful and soon, the space reverted to use as a theatre café/bar.
1991 ended with Molière’s Tartuffe starring Paul Eddington and Felicity Kendal.
In 1992, Jeffrey Archer sold the theatre to Ray Cooney for a little over £2 million. Cooney was renowned as a writer and that year, chose the Playhouse to stage his latest farce It Runs in the Family. Not only did Cooney now own the theatre and write the play, but he also starred in it, alongside Sandra Dickinson and Windsor Davies.
Other productions during Ray Cooney’s tenure included Jane Eyre starring Tim Pigott-Smith, On Approval starring Martin Jarvis, and another Ray Cooney farce, Funny Money.
Cooney sold the Playhouse in 1996 to an American investment banker, Patrick Sulaiman Cole. The first production in this new era was Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House starring Janet McTeer. Later that year, the theatre closed for a complete refurbishment under the instruction of English Heritage. The auditorium underwent a complete restoration to its murals, caryatids (structural supports in the form of female Greek figures), balustrades and gold ornamentation.
The theatre reopened in 1997 with Sulaiman Cole’s production of Chekhov’s The Wood Demon. This was followed by an ill-timed production, again by Sulaiman Cole, of HRH. Directed by Simon Callow and based on the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, HRH received harsh criticism. The play was perceived as anti-royal, opening unfortunately the day after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The theatre soon returned to its former use as a commercial receiving house, hosting a season of work by the Almeida Theatre, including David Hare’s The Judas Kiss. This told the story of Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. Despite a cast including Liam Neeson, Tom Hollander and Peter Capaldi, and a subsequent Broadway run, the show proved unpopular with London’s critics.
In 2000, Hedwig and the Angry Inch enjoyed a six-week run, with Michael Ceveris as the hermaphroditic Hedwig, followed by a three-month run of Thunderbirds F.A.B.
The National Theatre’s landmark production of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls played here from 20thSeptember 2001 to 11th May 2002. The show transferred here from the Garrick Theatre before moving on to the Novello Theatre after its departure. The production would return in November 2016 for a further six months.
In 2003, the theatre was acquired by Maidstone Productions (the company of American theatre producers Ted and Norman Tulchin) with the venue managed by Ambassador Theatre Group. ATG has since gone on to acquire full ownership.
Richard Eyre’s Olivier Award-winning National Theatre production of Vincent in Brixton transferred via the Wyndham’s Theatre, opening here in 2003 and running for two months, with Clare Higgins and Jochum ten Haaf reprising their roles as Ursula Loyer and Vincent Van Gogh.
2004 saw another nomadic production, R C Sherriff’s First World War drama Journey’s End play for several months, arriving from the Comedy Theatre (now the Harold Pinter Theatre) before moving on to the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Hollywood came to the Playhouse in 2005 for a three-month run of The Postman Always Rings Twice, with Val Kilmer starring as Frank. This was followed by an equally starry production of Luigi Pirandello’s As You Desire Me with Bob Hoskins and Kristin Scott Thomas.
In 2006, Megan Dodds appeared in My Name is Rachel Corrie, co-edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. The show told the true story of a young woman who leaves a comfortable life in America and is killed by a bulldozer while defending Palestinian homes.
Motown-themed musical Dancing in the Streets arrived from the Aldwych theatre in August 2006 and played until July 2007. This was followed by another musical, Footloose which ran until December, and a Christmas season of Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.
In 2008, Ring Round the Moon starred Belinda Lang and Angela Thorne. Then, in autumn, the Menier Chocolate Factory production of La Cage Aux Folles arrived for an 18-month stay. The original Playhouse cast included Douglas Hodge as Albin and Denis Lawson as Georges alongside Tracie Bennett and Paula Wilcox. Subsequent casts featured Graham Norton, Philip Quast, Roger Allam, John Barrowman and Simon Burke.
The 2010s began with another long-running musical, Dreamboats and Petticoats. With a script by sitcom-writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the show transferred here from the Savoy Theatre before moving on in late 2012 to the Wyndham’s Theatre.
The Playhouse’s next show was another musical, Monty Python’s Spamalot. This scaled-back production had previously played at the Harold Pinter Theatre before transferring here in November 2012, running until April 2014. During this time, Ambassador Theatre Group finally acquired 100 percent ownership of the Playhouse.
An adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 ran during summer 2014. The production was well received and returned in summer 2015. Between times, Lindsay Lohan starred in David Mamet’s Speed the Plow, and Haydn Gwynne and Tamsin Grieg starred in David Yazbek’s musical adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
In 2015, the theatre also hosted a short run of The Rocky Horror Show. This featured Richard O’Brien as Narrator, David Bedella as Frank-n-furter and Ben Forster as Brad Majors. The production was filmed for a special gala night on 17th September in aid of Amnesty International.
In 2016, Friends actor Matthew Perry appeared in his self-penned play The End of Longing. The show received lukewarm reviews, but completed its three-month engagement. This was followed by another return for 1984, running from June until October 2016.
Shows in the latter part of the 2010s included The Kite Runner, which transferred from the Wyndham’s Theatre, Christian Slater in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and Glynis Barber and Martin Shaw in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
In June 2018, The Jungle opened here, transferring from the Young Vic. The show, telling the emotional stories of the residents of Europe’s largest refugee camp, saw the theatre completely transform.
From March 2019, another Menier Chocolate Factory transfer, Fiddler on the Roof played here at the Playhouse, with a cast including Andy Nyman and Judy Kuhn.
In late 2019/early 2020, The Jamie Lloyd Company presented two plays; Cyrano de Bergerac starring James McAvoy and The Seagull starring Indira Varma, Robert Glenister, Tamzin Outhwaite and Emelia Clarke. Regrettably, The Seagull flew for only a handful of performances before the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of all West End Theatres in March 2020. The production finally reopened at the Harold Pinter Theatre two years later.
By the time the Playhouse Theatre reopened in late 2021, it had undergone a dramatic transformation; the theatre’s interior was reimagined as the Kit Kat Club for a new revival of the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret. The reconfigured auditorium, including ‘Cabaret Tables’ meant a reduced capacity of 550, contributing to a huge spike in demand for tickets. The show won 7 Olivier Awards, including best musical revival and acting awards for stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley.
At the time of writing, Cabaret is still running with a new cast in place.
Despite various changes through the decades, the Playhouse Theatre still retains its original substage machinery. The theatre is currently owned by Ambassador Theatre Group.
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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.