West End theatre renovations: Here's all the London venues getting a makeover
Many West End theatres are returning better than ever after the disruption of the past year, thanks to extensive remodels – some done specially for their incoming shows. Here’s our guide to the new-look London theatre scene, and all the great productions that will benefit from their venue revamps.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is renowned for taking good care of his theatres. He did extensive upgrades to – and renamed – the Gillian Lynne Theatre in 2018, now home to his latest work, Cinderella, and also upgraded the Adelphi Theatre’s façade and seating. His latest project has been the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which he gave a refresh during this past year in anticipation of hosting the UK premiere of musical Frozen.
The historic venue has had a £60 million refurbishment, aimed at restoring it to its former glory – and introducing modern touches, like improved access. The cantilevered Wyatt staircases, lost 100 years ago, have been restored, and the theatre seating is wider, with better legroom and sight lines, also aided by a newly curved auditorium (which can now play in the round).
Visitors will be able to access the venue’s bars and restaurants, and take afternoon tea, throughout the day, rather than just when attending a show. And, perhaps most importantly, 20 new female cubicles have been installed to shorten waiting times for the loos.
Trafalgar Studios is reborn as the Trafalgar Theatre – and with a very different configuration. Instead of two performance spaces, one main auditorium and one (rather too cosy) studio, it now houses just one 630-seat auditorium featuring a larger stage, with more comfortable, and more colourful, seating, and a far less alarming rake.
As with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the aim is to hark back to the venue’s glory days: in this case, with stylish 1930s décor, designed by Foster Wilson Size. Co-owner Howard Panter said they were delighted to have unearthed the Art Deco building beneath the shell of Trafalgar Studios, and to have brought it back to life via painstaking restoration work in consultation with their historical partners.
But it’s a modern upgrade, too. Once again, there are extra ladies’ loos, plus a new stalls bars and more airy foyer. It’s a great welcome back to audiences – as is the venue’s reopening show, a revival of the iconic musical Jersey Boys.
Welcome to the cabaret! That’s the message from this venerable West End venue, which is being transformed into the Kit Kat Club for its starry production this autumn. Jessie Buckley and Eddie Redmayne are leading Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, and Rebecca Frecknall’s production definitely promises to be a special one, teased by the big changes being made to the Playhouse.
It’s not the first time that this theatre has been taken over by its show. In 2018, audiences were invited into an immersive space for The Jungle, including a pop-up restaurant, camp beds on your way into the auditorium, and mud on the floor. Audiences sat at long tables, on which the actors performed.
Expect something similarly dramatic, although of a very different nature, for Cabaret. Audiences can arrive early and explore the “club,” with food and drink available, plus pre-show entertainment. The musical will then be staged in the round, with a capacity of just 550, and venue owners Ambassador Theatre Group are taking the opportunity to make a few building upgrades too. All the odds are in their favour.
Another sultry club is sashaying into town this autumn. Yes, the Broadway show Moulin Rouge! The Musical, based on Baz Luhrmann’s beloved film, is opening at London’s Piccadilly Theatre, and it promises eye-popping spectacle and excess. To deliver on that vow, venue owners ATG just had to give the building itself a little makeover too.
The Piccadilly is one of the largest venues in London and has hosted plenty of prestigious – and contrasting – shows, including the National Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Lehman Trilogy, and musical Pretty Woman. However, it’s also had some structural issues, leading to a ceiling collapse in 2019.
Thankfully, restoration work has ensured that the theatre is completely safe for audiences, and that everyone can instead focus on the thrilling set-up for Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Expect a lavish, immersive set and plenty of fun to be had. So, get out that feather boa, order your champagne, and surrender to the decadence.
Another of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s venues has been getting some special attention of late. The Grade II*-listed Her Majesty’s Theatre, instantly recognisable thanks to its striking Corinthian columns, saw its main entrance and foyer restored in 2016. And now, there are changes afoot for long-time resident The Phantom of the Opera.
As has been much reported (and feverishly debated), the production will have a very different look and feel when audiences return. Some of that is much-needed cosmetic work, such as the repainting of the ceiling, repairing tired sets, and upgrades to the boxes and orchestra pit – with the latter featuring balusters instead of a pleated curtain. There are also plans to improve the sound design and restore the original proscenium, which requires removing black paint and repairing the brickwork and timber superstructure.
The overall aim is to create a stronger connection between the stage and the auditorium – and to accommodate a different version of Phantom. Fear not, the chandelier will still be there, but otherwise it’s closer to the touring production, which means a smaller orchestra. But, says producer Cameron Mackintosh, if anything the show will look even more opulent.
Photo credit: Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Photo by Andy Paradise)