The Duchess Theatre is one of the smallest proscenium based theatres in the West End. Ewen Barr, who designed the building, was not considered to be a particularly successful architect, but he overcame many of the challenges of the awkwardly shaped site to create a relatively successful theatre. It opened in November 1929 with a production of Hubert Griffith’s Tunnel Trench. Short runs of plays dominated the Duchess Theatre’s early years, including works by Emlyn Williams and T. S. Eliot in the 1930s, but none quite so short as the 1930 production of The Intimate Revue, which opened and closed on the same night, March 11th, the shortest run of a production in West End history!
Fortunately, the theatre’s luck turned around and long running productions such as Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit in 1942, the musical Oh! Calcutta! In 1974 and Marc Camoletti’s Don’t Dress For Dinner in 1992 have ensured that the theatre never remained empty for very long.
Other than a run of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story in 2007, the Duchess Theatre has almost exclusively been home to straight plays rather than musicals over the last twenty years, and has seen several stars appear on its stage, including:
Maureen Lipman, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Bill Nighy, David Suchet, Henry Goodman, Mark Rylance, Dominic West, Ruby Wax, Alex Jennings, Lenny Henry and Kathleen Turner. The Theatre is currently owned by Nimax Theatres and plays host to the 2015 Olivier Award-winning Mischief Theatre comedy The Play That Goes Wrong.
The auditorium has two levels – Stalls and Grand Circle.
In the Stalls, seats curve inwards towards the end of each row and the seats are not raked until Row G. The Grand Circle also overhangs the Stalls from Row G onwards.
The Circle offers good views throughout, and it is a very intimate theatre so does not feel removed from the action.