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The Noel Coward Theatre, St. Martin's Lane, London

Formerly - The New Theatre / The Albery Theatre

The Noel Coward Theatre during production for 'Half A Sixpence' in October 2016

Above - The Noel Coward Theatre during production for 'Half A Sixpence' in October 2016.

See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsSee this Theatre on Google StreetviewThe Noel Coward Theatre originally opened as the 'New Theatre' on the 12th of March 1903 with the play' 'Rosemary' by Louis N. Parker, starring Charles Wyndham and his wife Mary Moore. You can see the opening Programme for this production below.

Quick Facts
Quick Facts

The Theatre was built for Sir Charles Wyndham by the well known Theatre Architect W. G. R. Sprague. It was Sprague who had designed Charles Wyndham's first Theatre, the 'Wyndham's Theatre' in Charing Cross Road, which had opened in November 1899.

The New Theatre - From a Postcard sent in 1908.When Wyndham bought the land to build his first Theatre he also acquired the land to the rear of it which he had originally intended to sell on. However this deal fell through and he decided he might as well build another Theatre on this spare land which fronted onto St. Martin's Lane. Hence the new Theatre was built and named the New Theatre, which was only the second to be built on St. Martin's Lane. The first was the Trafalgar Square Theatre, now known as the Duke Of York's, which opened in 1892. The London Coliseum was also being constructed on St. Martin's lane during the building of the New Theatre but that didn't open until 1904.

Left - The New Theatre - From a Postcard sent in 1908.

Pre 1907 seating plan for the New Theatre - Click to Enlarge.The New Theatre's auditorium, with a capacity of 877, was built on four levels, Stalls, Dress Circle, Upper Circle, and Gallery, and decked out in the so called 'Free Classical Style' in Cream and Gold which is much how it remains today. The Theatre backs onto the Wyndham's Theatre and both Theatres share the same stage door. There is also a bridge joining the Theatres above the public passageway that runs between them.

Right - A Pre 1907 seating plan for the New Theatre - Click to Enlarge.

The New Theatre, St. Martin's Lane, London - From the ERA, 14th February 1903.

Above - The New Theatre, St. Martin's Lane, London - From the ERA, 14th February 1903.

  • The Opening Programme for 'Rosemary' at the New Theatre on March 12th 1903 - Courtesy Dave Blake.
  • The Opening Programme for 'Rosemary' at the New Theatre on March 12th 1903 - Courtesy Dave Blake.
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A few weeks before the New Theatre opened the ERA printed a report on the Theatre, along with a sketch, shown above, in their 14th of February 1903 edition saying:- 'The exceedingly handsome new theatre in St. Martin's lane, with its striking frontage of white Portland stone, is to be shortly opened by Sir Charles Wyndham with a revival of Rosemary, written by Mr Louis Napoleon Parker and Mr Murray Carson. (See Opening Programme shown Right).

Mr W. G. Sprague, who has got to be recognised as a prince amongst theatrical architects, has designed one of the most comfortable and prettiest theatres in the metropolis, which is saying a great deal in these days of artistic endeavour and modern improvements. One of the great disadvantages under which so many play houses, old and new, labour is draughts. At the New Theatre - a title which is open to criticism, but which we believe is only tentative - this drawback has been obviated throughout by the use of double doors and curtains.

But let us begin with the building itself, the front elevation of which is of the free classic order of architecture. There is a frontage of 76ft. in St. Martin's-lane, and 130ft side frontage in St. Martin's-court, where are the pit and gallery entrances. At the back, which bulks on the rear of Sir Charles' other house, the width is 60ft., and here we find the stage-door and entrance hall for the actors nearly opposite the other stage door.

The main entrance in St. Martin's-lane introduces us first to a pleasant vestibule, where the box-office stands on the right, and then we emerge into the beautiful crush room, 20ft. wide and 60ft. long, which leads direct into the dress-circle, where we come upon double doors, with small lobbies left and right. From this same corridor a staircase runs down to the 240 stalls. The King's entrance is towards the north, direct from St. Martin's-lane, where is his private room adjoining the Royal box.

The Auditorium of the Noel Coward Theatre in July 2016

Above - The Auditorium of the Noel Coward Theatre in July 2016.

The Auditorium and Ceiling of the Noel Coward Theatre in July 2016There is in this beautiful three-tier erection, seating capacity in the grand circle for one hundred and eighty persons, while the same number can find accommodation upstairs in the family circle. The gallery will hold about three hundred "gods," while the pit will give space for about two hundred and fifty.

Right - The Auditorium and Ceiling of the New Theatre, today the Noel Coward Theatre, in July 2016.

The decorations throughout are Louis Seize - white and gold - relieved by Rose Du Barry curtains, hangings, and upholstery generally. The creature comforts of the playgoer have been well considered, and there is a magnificent saloon on the prompt side for the stalls, some 26ft. long by 15ft. wide. At the back of the pit there is an excellent bar apartment, over 30ft. long by 15ft. wide. For the dress circle patrons there is a really grand saloon 30ft. long by 15. wide, with casements opening on to an agreeable balcony over looking St. Martin's lane, and there is also a separate lounge for the use of the family circle, 21ft. long by 12ft. wide. The galleryites have not been forgotten, for leading up from "paradis" is a bar 35.ft. long by 12ft. wide. Throughout, we may add that marble is very conspicuous by its presence in columns and supports.

Over the grand saloon there is a complete and quite elaborate suite of managerial offices, and every convenience for the proper control of the house. In the auditorium, which is of regular circular construction, there is a special effect designed to form a colonnade from left to right of the tiers. The colonnade is surmounted by a continuous cove, above which is the main ceiling auditorium, completely circular, as just stated. This is divided up geometrically into Louis Seize panelling, in the centre of which is suspended a handsome Louis Seize glass basket 6ft. in diameter. The ceiling is also embellished with twelve smaller baskets equally spaced around its outer ring.

The Auditorium Ceiling of the Noel Coward Theatre in July 2016There are eight private boxes, which can quite easily be converted into fourteen when, and if, necessary. Being designed on the cantilever principle, there are no pillars whatever to obstruct the view and irritate the spectator. Over the proscenium a very striking gilt trophy, emblematic of the Muse of Music, at once arrests the attention. The curtain proper is in double form, the lower part being composed of white silk splendidly embroidered and fringed with gold, with an over drapery of Rose Du Barry, delicate and soothing.

Left - The Auditorium Ceiling of the New Theatre, today the Noel Coward Theatre, in July 2016.

The theatre is built throughout of fire-resisting wood and materiels, the stage, which is flat, 35ft. deep and 60ft. wide, has also been treated with a fire proof solution. From the stage to the grid there is a height of over 50ft. so that the most extensive scenery can been sent out of sight quite rapidly. Of course, there is the inevitable iron curtain, and both before and behind the scenes there are fire hydrants and other protective arrangements according to the latest London County Council order.

A very pretty effect is secured by the contour of the two circles, the sides of the family circle having balconies which merge into the front sweep of the tier, providing a direct contrast to the dress-circle below.

At the back the artiste has been well cared for. There are upwards of twenty dressing-rooms, all fitted with electric light, proper looking glasses, and basins with hot and cold water laid on. These apartments are in immediate communication with the stage, and fitted with everything comfortable that modern ingenuity can devise.

As we have said, the colour scheme is a special Rose Du Barry tint, which most naturally blends with the Louis Seize, and Messrs Waring are to be heartily congratulated upon their artistic achievement. To Mr Sprague all honour is due for providing Londoners with such a charming and cosy new play house.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 14th February 1903.

A Programme for 'Richard of Bordeaux' at the New Theatre in 1934, starring John Gielgud.The souvenir Programme on the opening night of the New Theatre was just as enthusiastic about the New Theatre as the ERA article shown above saying:- 'The front elevation is of the free classic order, and is at once dignified and effective. The Theatre is approached by a roomy Vestibule leading to one of the most picturesque Crush Rooms to be found in any theatre in London.

Right - A Programme for 'Richard of Bordeaux' at the New Theatre in 1934, starring John Gielgud.

Programme for ' Hamlet' at the New Theatre in 1935, with John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy.Mr W. G. R. Sprague, the Architect, has excelled himself, in this, his thirtieth theatre, and from an architectural point of view Sir Charles's New Theatre is the acme of perfection.

On entering the Auditorium one is immediately struck with the exquisite lines on which the theatre has been designed, a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage being obtained from literally every part of the Theatre, even to the extreme corner seats at the back of the gallery.

Left - A Programme for ' Hamlet' at the New Theatre in 1935, with John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy.

The Theatre is constructed on the modern cantilever principle, thus rendering columns of any sort unnecessary. The Theatre is equipped with all modern and scientific appliances. In short, everything that ingenuity and experience can accomplish has been done.

A Seating Plan for the New Theatre - From 'Who's Who in the Theatre' published in 1930 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Click to see more Seating Plans from this publication.

Above - A Seating Plan for the New Theatre - From 'Who's Who in the Theatre' published in 1930 - Courtesy Martin Clark. Click to see more Seating Plans from this publication.

John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy in Hamlet at the New Theatre in 1935.Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the Theatre is the exquisite treatment of decoration, which is of the period of Louis XVI and has been adhered to, even down to the minutest details, throughout.

The prominent colours are white and gold, relieved by curtains and hangings of Rose du Barri brocade and antique velvet.

Right - John Gielgud and Jessica Tandy in Hamlet at the New Theatre in 1935

The seats in the Stalls and Dress Circle are exceptionally beautiful being upholstered in Aubusson tapestry. Over the Proscenium will be seen a perfectly modelled gilt trophy emblematic of Peace and Music, while on either side are models of Cupids, illustrating Winter and Summer, copied from bronzes in the collections of Mr Claude Ponsonby.

The panels in the Auditorium are decorated with beautiful portrait medallions of the French Kings and Queens.'

The above text in quotes is from the New Theatre's opening night souvenir Programme of 1903.

Renaming to the Albery Theatre

The New Theatre had a change of name to The Albery Theatre on the 1st of January 1973, this was reported in the Stage Newspaper in their 5th of October 1973 edition saying:- 'The Wyndham Theatres Ltd announce that they have decided to change the name of the New Theatre in St Martin's Lane, where Donald Sinden is now starring in "London Assurance," to Albery's Theatre. This change of name has been contemplated for some time as a tribute to the memory of the late Sir Bronson Albery who presided over the fortunes of this theatre for so many years, but the change has been made particularly appropriate and necessary at this moment of time owing to the recent announcement that the new theatre built on the site of the old Winter Garden Theatre, which is scheduled to open in January 1973, is to be called The New London Theatre" The similarity of the two names would inevitably have produced a great deal of confusion, and it is therefore proposed to effect this change of name from the New Theatre to Albery's Theatre as from January 1. 1973.' - The Stage, 5th of October 1973.

The Theatre's auditorium levels were renamed at the same time as the name change, to: Stalls, Royal Circle, Grand Circle, and Balcony (See seating plan below).

A  beautifully drawn Mid 1920s Seating Plan for the Albery Theatre

Above - A beautifully drawn Mid 1920s Seating Plan for the Albery Theatre.

Renaming to the Noel Coward Theatre

The Noel Coward Theatre during the run of 'Avenue Q' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Noel Coward Theatre during the run of 'Avenue Q' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

The Albery Theatre had another change of name in May 2006, this time to the Noel Coward Theatre, when Delfont Mackintosh Theatres bought the Theatre.

You may like to visit their own website here.

The Noel Coward Theatre during the run of 'Mrs Henderson Presents' in February 2016 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Noel Coward Theatre during previews for 'Mrs Henderson Presents' in February 2016. The show was first put on at the Theatre Royal, Bath and is a Musical Version of the Film of the same name about the infamous Windmill Theatre years. See details and images from the Opening Night here.

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