Gaiety Theatre, London

Gaiety Theatre, London

Infobox Theatre
name = Gaiety Theatre

caption = The Gaiety Theatre, c. 1905
address = Aldwych
city = Westminster, London
country =
designation = "Demolished 1956"
latitude = 51.513056
longitude = -0.1175
architect = Bassett and Keeling
owner =
capacity = 2,000 seats on four levels (1864)
type =
opened = 1864
yearsactive =
rebuilt = 1868 C. J. Phipps 1903 Ernest Runtz and George Ford
closed = 1939
othernames = 1864 Strand Musick Hall
production =
currentuse = The Silken Hotel
website =
The Gaiety Theatre, London was a West End theatre in the City of Westminster, located on Aldwych at the eastern end of the Strand. The theatre was established as the Strand Musick Hall (sic), in 1864 on the former site of the Lyceum Theatre. It was rebuilt several times, but closed from the start of World War II in 1939 and never reopened, having suffered bomb damage during the hostilities. The theatre, at first known for music hall and then musical burlesque, from 1868 to the early 1890s, played a key role in the development of modern musical comedy in the late Victorian era and Edwardian period.


The theatre was financed by a joint stock company and built in 1864 as the Strand Musick Hall by Bassett and Keeling. This large theatre, with over 2,000 seats, [ Arthur Lloyd Music Hall site (early history of the Gaiety)] accessed 01 Mar 2007] was built at a time when many new theatres were being built in London. [ Arthur Lloyd Music Hall site (on Gaiety) "The Times" December 11, 1868] accessed 01 Mar 2007] Unlike at many other music halls, the proprietors decided to ban smoking and drinking within the hall, and these activities were accommodated in the adjacent saloons. A novel gas lighting system was incorporated in the hall, using prisms and mirrors to create a soft light. Exhausting the heat of the gas jets drew fresh air into the building. The house was approached through an ambitious arcade, from the Strand. This was never successful and, with the theatre, was demolished to allow the building of the Aldwych.

Hollingshead years

In 1868, the theatre was sumptuously rebuilt by John Hollingshead as the Gaiety Theatre (announcing its dramatic policy in its name), on a nearby prominent site at the centre of the Aldwych, facing the eastern end of the Strand. It was designed by the theatre architect C. J. Phipps, who also designed the Gaiety Theatre (1871) in Dublin. restaurant operated in the building, and patrons could eat before seeing the show and then go directly to their seats without having to worry about the weather outside.

The Gaiety Theatre opened on December 21 1868, with "On the Cards" and several companion pieces, including the successful "Robert the Devil", by W. S. Gilbert, a burlesque of the opera "Robert le Diable". [ [ Digital Guide to Gilbert & Sullivan] accessed 01 March 2007] The theatre was a venue primarily for burlesque, variety, continental operetta and light comedy under the management of John Hollingshead from 1868 to 1886, including several operettas by Jacques Offenbach and musical burlesques arranged by the theatre's music director, Wilhelm Meyer Lutz. Nellie Farren soon became the theatre's star "principal boy" in all the burlesques and played in other comedies. She and comic Fred Leslie starred at the theatre for over 20 years, with Edward Terry for much of that period. Her husband, Robert Soutar was an actor, stage manager and writer for the theatre.Stewart, Maurice. 'The spark that lit the bonfire', in "Gilbert and Sullivan News" (London) Spring 2003.] Gilbert also wrote "An Old Score" for the theatre in 1870. A typical evening at the Gaiety might include a three-act comic play, a dramatic interlude, a musical extravaganza, which might also include a ballet or pantomime (in the tradition of a Harlequinade). During such four hour long bills-of-fare, regular patrons might skip an item on the programme to eat in one of the theatre’s plush restaurants, play billiards in the on-site Billiard Room or drink in one of its several bars.

, taste and musical glasses." [ Arthur Lloyd Music Hall site (on Gaiety) "Cuttings"] accessed 01 Mar 2007]

Edwardes years

Edwardes's first show was "Dorothy". Although "Dorothy" called itself a comic opera, as did most of the British musical works of the era that were neither burlesque, pantomime nor low farce, "Dorothy" incorporated some of the elements that U.S. duo Harrigan and Hart were using on Broadway, integrating music and dance into the story line of the comedy. Edwardes sold that production, but it went on to become the longest-running hit that the musical stage had ever seen. Edwardes then returned the theatre to burlesque for a half dozen more years. However, in the 1860s and 1870s, burlesques were one-act pieces running less than an hour and using pastiches and parodies of popular songs, opera arias and other music that the audience would readily recognize. Edwardes expanded the format, adding an original score composed chiefly by Meyer Lutz, and the shows were extended to a full-length two or three act format. ["Theatrical Humour in the Seventies", "The Times", 20 February 1914, p. 9, col. D] These "new burlesques" included "Little Jack Sheppard" (1885), "Faust up to Date" (1888), "Ruy Blas and the Blase Roue"(1888), "Carmen up to Data" (1890), "Joan of Arc" by Adrian Ross and J. L. Shine (1891) and "Cinder Ellen up too Late" (1891). [Hollingshead (1903), pp. 40–64] The age of burlesque was coming to an end, and with the retirement of Nellie Farren and Fred Leslie, it was essentially over.

For "Joan of Arc", Edwardes had hired a young writer, Adrian Ross, who next wrote a less baudy, more lightly comic piece, similar to "Dorothy", with a minimum of plot, focusing on songs with clever lyrics, "In Town" (1892), with stylish costumes and urbane, witty banter. Edwardes also engaged Ivan Caryll as resident composer and music director at the Gaiety and soon put Caryll together with the writing team of Owen Hall, Harry Greenbank, Ross and Lionel Monckton. Edwardes and this team created a series of musical shows similar to "Dorothy", but taking its lighter, breezier style a step further. These shows featured fashionable characters, tuneful music, romantic lyrics, witty banter and pretty dancing. The success of the first of these, "A Gaiety Girl" (1893), which played at other theatres, confirmed Edwardes on the path he was taking.

For the next two decades, the "girl" musicals packed the Gaiety Theatre, including titles like "The Shop Girl" (1894), "My Girl" (1896), [Hollingshead (1903), p. 74] "The Circus Girl" (1896), and "A Runaway Girl" (1898). These musicals were imitated at other theatres. A particular attraction of the Gaiety shows was the beautiful, dancing Gaiety Girls. These were fashionable, elegant young ladies, unlike the corseted actresses from the burlesques. Gaiety Girls were polite, well-behaved young women and became a popular attraction and a symbol of ideal womanhood. Some became popular leading actresses. The young ladies appearing in George Edwardes's shows became so popular that wealthy gentlemen, termed "Stage Door Johnnies", would wait outside the stage door hoping to escort them to dinner. In some cases, a marriage into society and even the nobility resulted. Edwardes arranged with Romano's restaurant, on the Strand, for his girls to dine there at half-price. It was good exposure for the girls and made Romano's the centre of London's night-life.

Alan Hyman, an expert on burlesque theatre who penned the 1972 book "The Gaiety Years", wrote::At the old Gaiety in the Strand the chorus was becoming a matrimonial agency for girls with ambitions to marry into the peerage and began in the nineties when Connie Gilchrist, a star of the Old Gaiety, married the 7th Earl of Orkney and then in 1901, the 4th Marquess of Headfort married Rosie Boote, who had charmed London the previous year when she sang Maisie in "The Messenger Boy". After Connie Gilchrist and Rosie Boote had started the fashion a score of the Guv'nor's budding stars left him to marry peers or men of title while other Gaiety Girls settled for a banker or a stockbroker. The Guv’nor finding this was playing ducks and drakes with his theatrical plans had a 'nuptial clause' inserted in every contract.... Debutantes were competing with the other girls to get into the Gaiety chorus while upper-class youths were joining the ranks of the chorus boys. [ [ Information about the stagedoor Johnnie marriages] ]

The building was demolished in 1903 as part of the road widening of the East Strand and the new Aldwych-Kingsway road development, and Edwardes quickly built the "New Gaiety Theatre" at the corner of Aldwych and The Strand. "The Orchid" (1903) opened the new theatre, followed by "The Spring Chicken" (1905), "The Girls of Gottenberg" (1907), "Our Miss Gibbs" (1909), "Peggy" (1911), "The Sunshine Girl" (1912), "The Girl on the Film" (1913), "Adele" (1914), and "After the Girl" (1914). Perhaps to balance the "girl" musicals for which the Gaiety was famous, Edwardes also presented a series of "boy"-themed musicals, such as "The Messenger Boy" (1900), "The Toreador" (1901, which introduced Gertie Millar), "Two Naughty Boys" (1906), "The New Aladdin" (1906), "Havana" (1908). Later, George Grossmith, Jr. and Edward Laurillard produced a number of successes at the theatre, including "Tonight's the Night" (1915) and "Theodore & Co" (1916). Many of these popular musicals toured after their runs at the Gaity, both in the British provinces and internationally.

Later years and demise

Edwardes died in 1915, leaving his estate indebted and the theatre (as well as Edwardes' other theatres, including Daly's Theatre), in the hands of Robert Evett, formerly a leading tenor of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Under Evett's management, the theatre prospered with another hit, "Going Up" (1918), followed by "The Kiss Call" (1919), and "Faust on Toast" (1921). In 1922, Evett produced Gaiety adaptations of "Catherine" and "The Last Waltz", a work of which he was co-author. In 1924, he produced "Our Nell", the revised version of "Our Peg".

, also with Lupino, which ran for 302 performances. The last show at the theatre was the farce "Running Riot", in 1939.

By 1938 the Gaiety Theatre was in need of refurbishment. However, the theatre no longer conformed to the then current licensing regulations, and so extensive modernisation was required. This was not considered to be financially viable and in 1939 the Gaiety Theatre closed. The interior fittings were stripped from the building, and sold at auction. Standing empty during World War II, the building suffered further damage as a result of bombing during air raids.

In 1946 the shell of the Gaiety Theatre was purchased by Lupino Lane for £200,000. It was the intention to rebuild the theatre and make it, once again, a centre of musical comedy. Although restoration did commence, it was found that the structural problems were worse than expected and the work discontinued. The building was once again sold, resulting in it being demolished in 1956 and replaced by an office development.

In 2006, the site of the Gaiety is once again being developed, with The Silken Hotel, a luxury hotel, being built on the land. To protect the vista of the street in which it is located, one of the walls of the old restaurant has listed building status and has been incorporated into all the subsequent development. [ [ Arthur Lloyd Music Hall site (Images of the Gaiety)] accessed 01 Mar 2007]



*Hollingshead, John. "Gaiety Chronicles" (1898) A. Constable & co.: London (available online [ here)]
*Hollingshead, John. "Good Old Gaiety: An Historiette & Remembrance" (1903) London:Gaity Theatre Co
*Hyman, Alan. "The Gaiety Years" (Cassell, 1975) ISBN 0304293725
*cite book|last=McQueen-Pope|first=W.|year=1949|title=Gaiety: Theatre of Enchantment|publisher=W. H. Allen
*Jupp, James. [ "The Gaiety Stage Door: Thirty Years' Reminiscences of the Theatre"] (1923) London:Jonathan Cape
* [ Images & extensive information about the theatre]
* [ Additional images and information about the theatre]
* [ Profile of the theatre and other Victorian theatres]
* [ Historical images of the site of the Gaiety Theatre]
*Polianovskaia, Jana: "The Gaiety at St. Petersburg" in "The Gaiety" Annual (2003) pp. 30-34
* [ Article about marriage between Gaiety Girls and noblemen]

External links

* [ Gaiety Girls information, Theatre Museum]
* [ Gaiety Girls exhibition, National Portrait Gallery London]
* [ Description of exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery London]

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