HRH Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96, the theatre industry remembers

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II has passed away today, 8 Sept. 2022, at the age of 96. Throughout her life, Queen Elizabeth II showed a keen interest in the arts. During her 70-year reign, she opened the National Theatre, attended 35 Royal Variety performances, and often saw West End productions.

The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre said in a joint statement, "The theatre industry is thankful for all the support and patronage Her Majesty has shown throughout her lifetime. We would like to convey our deepest sympathy to the Royal Family at this time of national mourning.” We look back at the Queen’s relationship with West End theatre.

Queen Elizabeth II Oklahoma - 750 - LT

Did you know theatre helped Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip fall for one another? On 30 Apr. 1947, they attended a performance of Oklahoma! at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with the song "People Will Say We're in Love" holding a special meaning for the couple. In an article from Time Magazine, royal biographer Christopher Warwick said: It was a song that 'sung' to them - their song if you will." This performance of Oklahoma! received 14 encores and 60 minutes of curtain calls.

In 1952, the Queen and Prince Philip attended a Royal Gala Performance of King Henry VIII. That same year, the Queen attended her first Royal Variety Performance. The performance took place at the London Palladium on 3 Nov. 1952, and featured The Victoria Palace Tiller Girls and Vera Lynn. Over her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth II attended 35 Royal Variety Performances — her last Royal Variety Performance was in 2012 at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall opened on the South Bank in 1967 with a concert conducted by Benjamin Britten. Nearly a decade later, on 25 Oct. 1976, the Queen and Prince Philip officially opened the National Theatre building on the South Bank. Together, they opened the Olivier, Lyttelton, and Cottesloe (now Dorfman) theatres. The National Theatre formally earned its ‘Royal’ accolade in 1990. The Queen served as Patron of the National Theatre from 1974 - 2019.

The Queen was also a devotee of the Royal Shakespeare Company. RSC's Catherine Mallyon and Erica Whyman said in a statement, "Her Majesty the Queen has been Patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1961, when the Company was created. Her Majesty last visited us in Stratford-upon-Avon on 4 March 2011 to open formally the transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This was a memorable day in the history of the RSC where she met and talked with members of the Company and those involved in the redevelopment and transformation of the theatre.

“It was a great pleasure for us to rehearse with HRH The Prince of Wales in preparation for his poetic tribute to his mother on her 90th birthday in 2016. We were honoured to be part of such a special moment."

Queen Elizabeth II War Horse - 750 - LT

The Queen was a champion of West End theatre, too. On 28 Mar. 2006, the Queen saw a performance of Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theatre. On 12 Oct. 2009, the Queen then slipped into a performance of War Horse at the Gillian Lynne Theatre without an entourage. An Evening Standard article reads, “The Queen wore a simple dark green dress and any bodyguards she had were 'so discreet as to be invisible'... they were incredibly apologetic for asking people to let them past and there was no hubbub or fuss about it all. At the interval they disappeared and reappeared very discreetly. When they left at the end, they were given a round of applause, which the Queen acknowledged with a wave."

Even though the Queen is no longer with us, she is immortalised in theatre, notably in Peter Morgan’s The Audience. In an article from The Express, Queen Elizabeth II was reported to be disappointed she missed 2013 performances.

If the Queen had a radio station, she’d most likely play a lot of musical theatre too. When Lady Elizabeth Anson spoke on the radio documentary Our Queen: 90 Musical Years, she revealed the Queen’s love of Golden Age musicals like Show Boat, Oklahoma!, and Annie Get Your Gun. Some of her favourite songs include “Oklahoma!” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)."

She also loved listening to ABBA. After a dinner party at Windsor Castle in 2008, the Queen got up and danced to “Dancing Queen.” "I always try to dance when this song comes on because I am the Queen and I like to dance," she is reported to have said.

The theatre industry remembers Queen Elizabeth II

Andrew Lloyd Webber

"For the whole of my life, the Queen has been the constant anchor of not just Britain and her beloved Commonwealth, but an inspiration to the world for her lifetime of service.

"Her legacy will be remembered as a selfless beacon for love, understanding and the celebration of fellow human beings all over the world, no matter their race or creed.

"Madeleine and I are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers are with the Queen’s family."

Cameron Mackintosh

"To have lived through the second Elizabethan age has been a privilege. Our longest reigning monarch has shown us all what selfless duty really means and British theatre salutes her extraordinary achievements.

What finer demonstration of Her Majesty's show-must-go-on attitude than the Royal Household's wish that everyday life must continue as we all mourn Her passing and marvel at Her wonderful and magnificent life. God bless Her."

The National Theatre

"We are deeply saddened by the death of Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Patron of the National Theatre for more than four decades. Our thoughts and condolences are with the Royal Family."

Old Vic

"It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of our longest-reigning monarch, Her Majesty the Queen – pictured in 1952 at the Royal Gala performance of King Henry VIII.

Tonight’s show will go ahead as planned, preceded by one minute of silence."

Here's how theatres are responding to Queen Elizabeth II's death.

Photo credit: Queen Elizabeth II (Photo by Government of Alberta on Flickr under CC 2.0)

Originally published on

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