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The Novelty Theatre, Great Queen Street, Holborn, London

Later - The Folies Dramatiques Theatre / The Jodrell Theatre / The New Queen's Theatre / The Eden Palace of Varieties / The Great Queen Street Theatre / The Kingsway Theatre

See also in this area: The Theatre Royal, Holborn - The Embassy Theatre, High Holborn - The Holborn Empire / Weston's Music Hall - The Holborn Theatre - The Holborn Restaurant - Images of High Holborn - Disappearing London.

The Novelty Theatre, Great Queen Street, Holborn - From a wood engraving in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of the 7th of October 1882.

Above - The Novelty Theatre, Great Queen Street, Holborn - From a wood engraving in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of the 7th of October 1882.

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The site of the Novelty Theatre in September 2019 - Photo M.L.The Novelty Theatre was situated on Great Queen Street, which is today a subsidiary of Kingsway, but was originally a subsidiary of Little Queen Street before Kingsway was constructed in its place, see maps below. The Theatre was designed by the architect Thomas Verity and opened on the 9th of December 1882 with the comic opera 'Melita or the Parsee's Daughter.' The Theatre's main entrance was on Great Queen Street but it's Gallery Entrance and Stage Door were at the rear of the building in Parker Street.

Right - The site of the Novelty Theatre in September 2019. The Theatre was situated where the modern office building stands today, and next door to No 7 Great Queen Street which can still be seen in the photograph.

The ERA reported on the Theatre's opening in their 16th of December 1882 edition saying:- 'The opening of a new London theatre last Saturday night was an event of considerable interest to playgoers; and although there were many rival attractions, the Novelty Theatre was well filled.

The decorations, which, of course, were displayed to greater advantage when the theatre was fully lighted, have been carried out with great taste by Mr. E. W. Bradwell. The entrances and exists of the Novelty will bear comparison with those of much larger theatres.

A handsome vestibule is the first approach to the theatre, and the visitor passes through rich curtains to the stalls and boxes. It is claimed for this theatre that special precautions have been taken against fire or panic as there are double exits from each part of the building, and the floors are constructed of concrete. The entrance to the pit is in Great Queen Street, by the side of the stall entrance; the gallery entrance being in Parker Street, at the back of the theatre...

The Auditorium of the Novelty Theatre, Great Queen Street, Holborn - From a wood engraving in the Pictorial World of 1882, and reprinted in Mander & Mitchenson's 'Lost Theatres of London' 1968.

Above - The Auditorium of the Novelty Theatre, Great Queen Street, Holborn - From a wood engraving in the Pictorial World of 1882, and reprinted in Mander & Mitchenson's 'Lost Theatres of London' 1968.

...The prevailing colours employed in decorating the auditorium are peacock blue and dark crimson plush. The proscenium resembles a picture frame, and, instead of a drop curtain of the old-fashioned type, there are curtains made of embossed silk of the colour of old gold, having a rich yet harmonious effect.

Map of Holborn before Kingsway was constructed over Little Queen Street, showing the position of the Novelty Theatre, The Holborn Restaurant and the Embassy Theatre. - From 'The Fascination of London / Holborn and Bloomsbury' by Sir Walter Besant 1836-1901. Embassy Theatre Holborn Restaurant Novelty Theatre The dress circle projects considerably over the pit, and causes the theatre to look smaller than it really is, the number of seats being a little over one thousand, while an altogether new feature in the arrangements is the numbering of the pit seats, so that they can be secured in advance and reserved for the evening, as in more expensive portions of the house.

Left - A Map of Holborn before Kingsway was constructed over Little Queen Street, showing the position of the Novelty Theatre between Great Queen Street and Parker Street. Also shown on the map is the The Embassy Theatre on High Holborn, and the future site of the Holborn Restaurant on Little Queen Street, which was later to become Kingsway - From 'The Fascination of London / Holborn and Bloomsbury' by Sir Walter Besant 1836-1901.

A Map of Holborn with the position of Kingsway overlaid, showing the Novelty Theatre, The Holborn Restaurant and the Embassy Theatre. - From 'The Fascination of London / Holborn and Bloomsbury' by Sir Walter Besant 1836-1901. Embassy Theatre & Holborn Restaurant Novelty Theatre Embassy Theatre and Holborn Restaurant The theatre is the property of a company, Mr. Somers Bellamy being the manager, Mr. E. E. Marriott the secretary, and Mr. Harrington Baily acting-manager. The announcement that light comic opera would form the sole entertainment of the opening night was doubtless an attraction to many, as that kind of fare is much in vogue.

Right - A Map of Holborn with the position of Kingsway overlaid, showing the Novelty Theatre, The Holborn Restaurant and the Embassy Theatre. - From 'The Fascination of London / Holborn and Bloomsbury' by Sir Walter Besant 1836-1901.

The opera chosen for the opening was a three-act work entitled Melita; or, the Parsee's Daughter, the composer being Mr. Henry Portet, and the author of the libretto Mr. Juba Kennerley.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 16th of December 1882.

Sketches of the opening production of 'Melita' at the Novelty Theatre - From the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 23rd of December 1882.

Above - Sketches of the opening production of 'Melita' at the Novelty Theatre - From the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 23rd of December 1882.

An Advertisement for the opening of the Folies Dramatique Theatre - From the St. James's Gazette, Thursday 29th of March 1883.The Novelty Theatre had first opened on the 9th of December 1882 but the following year it's name was changed to the 'Folies Dramatique Theatre' when it reopened with the comedy 'Ascot' and 'Les Cloches de Corneville' on the 29th of March 1883.

Right - An Advertisement for the opening of the Folies Dramatique Theatre - From the St. James's Gazette, Thursday 29th of March 1883.

The Theatre's name was soon changed back to the Novelty Theatre however, on the 5th of January the following year when it reopened with a production of 'The New Magdalen' and 'The Wilfull Ward' on the 5th of January 1884.

In 1888 the Theatre had another change of name, this time opening as the Jodrell Theatre on the 22nd of October that year with an opera by the Russian National Opera Company entitled 'The Demon'. The Jodrell name came from Mrs. Churchill Jodrell, who had taken the Theatre for a season, she was related to Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston Churchill.

A newspaper cutting about the Jodrell Theatre - From 'The Queen' Saturday October the 6th 1888.

Above - A newspaper cutting about the Jodrell Theatre - From 'The Queen' Saturday October the 6th 1888.

The following year in 1889 the Theatre reverted once again to its original name of the Novelty Theatre when it reopened with a production of Henrik Ibsen's 'The Dolls House' on the 7th of June 1889.

A year later another change of name, this time to the New Queen's Theatre when it reopened with the drama 'The Corsican Brothers' on the 4th of August 1890, but by the end of the month the name reverted to the Novelty Theatre again when the comedy 'Light O' Day' opened on the 30th of August 1890.

Four years later the name was changed yet again, this time to the Eden Palace of Varieties, when the Theatre reopened with 'Twice Nightly' Music Hall on the 26th of March 1894 under the management of Charles Morritt. However, this was not to last long and by August the Theatre reverted once again to its original Novelty Theatre name.

An advertisement for the proposed opening of the Great Queen Street Theatre - From the South London Press, 12th of May 1900. The Theatre actually opened on the 24th of May 1900.For the next four years the Theatre was open only occasionally and by June 1898 it had been closed completely.

Two years later, with a completely reconstructed interior, the Theatre reopened as the Great Queen Street Theatre, a little later than first advertised, on the 24th of May 1900 with a production of 'A Little Ray of Sunshine'.

Right - An advertisement for the proposed opening of the Great Queen Street Theatre - From the South London Press, 12th of May 1900. The Theatre actually opened on the 24th of May 1900.

W. S. Penley, the famous comedian of 'Charley's Aunt' fame, who opened his new playhouse, the Great Queen Street Theatre, with 'A Little Ray of Sunshine' on the 24th of May 1900 - From The Sketch, 23rd May 1900.The ERA reported on the changes briefly in their 19th of May 1900 edition saying:- 'Mr. W. S. Penley's new house, the Great Queen-Street Theatre, which is to be opened on Thursday next, is one of the prettiest little playhouses imaginable.

Left - W. S. Penley, the famous comedian of 'Charley's Aunt' fame, who opened his new playhouse, the Great Queen Street Theatre, with 'A Little Ray of Sunshine' on the 24th of May 1900 - From The Sketch, 23rd May 1900.

The original house was rather tall and gaunt, and by a clever architectural rearrangement the height has been agreeably lessened. Both before and behind the house has been improved, and, to a large extent, remodelled. The decorations in gold and pink and white, with dark salmon pink in the upholstery, have a very happy and soothing effect of colour.' - The ERA, 19th of May 1900.

Renaming to the Kingsway Theatre

The derelict and bomb damaged Kingsway Theatre in 1955 - From the Illustrated London News, 22nd January 1955.

Above - The derelict and bomb damaged Kingsway Theatre in 1955 - From the Illustrated London News, 22nd January 1955.

An Advertisement for the opening of the Kingsway Theatre - From the Daily Mirror, Saturday October the 5th 1907.The final name change for the Novelty Theatre was seven years after the last and this time it would be for the last time.

Right - An Advertisement for the opening of the Kingsway Theatre - From the Daily Mirror, Saturday October the 5th 1907.

The Theatre had been partly reconstructed and redecorated and then reopened as the Kingsway Theatre with a production of 'A Maker of Men' and Irene Wycherley' on the 9th of October 1907.

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

A Programme for Charles Hawtrey's Farcical Comedy 'The Private Secretary' at the Kingsway Theatre in December 1926.The Sporting Life reported briefly on the new Kingsway Theatre in their 5th of October 1907 edition saying:- 'Before the cutting of Kingsway the old Great Queen-street theatre was a most inconvenient one to get at, and scarcely attracted attention as one passed down the dirty old street. Now Kingsway goes by the end of Great Queen-street, about twenty yards from the theatre entrance and the Piccadilly and Brompton Tube Railway Station lying at the corner of Kingsway and Holborn and is only about one hundred yards away. Thus with buses from all parts passing through Kingsway, with the underground L.C.C. trams also passing that way, and the tube system connecting up all parts of London, the Kingsway Theatre becomes one of the easiest playhouses to get to in the West End. With any decent luck and good plays Miss Lena Ashwell Should make a success of the old theatre under the new name.

Right - A Programme for Charles Hawtrey's Farcical Comedy 'The Private Secretary' at the Kingsway Theatre in December 1926.

A programme for 'Marigold' by L. Allen Harker and F. P. Pryor, which opened at the Kingsway Theatre on the 21st of April 1927 and went on to run for 642 performances, and was revived in 1929. On Thursday afternoon she held a reception, and the whole house was crammed with guests, among whom were Sir Edward Clarke, Sir Charles and Lady Wyndham, Mr Hayden Coffin, Mr Farren Soutar, Mr H. D. Beveridge, Miss Lillian Braithwaite, Mrs and Miss Cyril Maude, Mrs G. P. Huntley, Mr Tom Browne, and many other distinguished people. The new style of decoration is most dainty, the colour scheme being white and rose du Barry. The opening night will be Wednesday, October 9, when "Irene Wycherley" by Anthony P. Wharton, will be presented, with Miss Lena Ashwell and Mr Norman Kinnel in the cast.' - The Sporting Life, 5th of October 1907.

Left - A programme for 'Marigold' by L. Allen Harker and F. P. Pryor, which opened at the Kingsway Theatre on the 21st of April 1927 and went on to run for 642 performances, also being revived in 1929. The cast in this production included Agnes Lowson, Mary Barton, Katie Johnson, Jean Cadell, Angela Baddeley, Edmond Beresford, Beatrice Wilson, Hubert Harben, Deering Wells, Anthole Stewart, John Harlow, Alan Stevenson, Laurence Ireland, and Perceval Clark.

The Kingsway Theatre was to be this Theatre's last incarnation as it was to close suddenly on the 11th of May 1941 during the run of 'While Parents Sleep', an early theatrical victim of the second world war. A later proposal in 1955 by the English Stage Company to restore and reopen the bomb damaged Theatre was regrettably abandoned due to the prohibitive costs involved. And due to the considerable damage to the stage and auditorium suffered during the blitz the Theatre remained closed and derelict until it was finally demolished in 1959. After its demolition the site of the Theatre became an Office Block and an extension of Newton Street into Great Queen Street. The article shown below, from the Stage Newspaper of 1959, sums up the sadness of this old Theatre's demise.

An Article from the Stage Newspaper of the 22nd of January 1959 on the demolition of the Kingsway Theatre, and a letter in response published in the Stage, 19th of February 1959 .

Above - An Article from the Stage Newspaper of the 22nd of January 1959 on the demolition of the Kingsway Theatre, and a letter in response published in the Stage, 19th of February 1959 .

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