The Harold Pinter Theatre opened on 15 Oct. 1881 as a comic opera house. Designed by Thomas Verity, it took six months to build. Built on four levels, the top three took on a horseshoe shape around the stalls, and the auditorium featured 14 boxes on each side of the stage. Its name on opening was the Royal Comedy Theatre, though its ‘Royal’ epithet was dropped in 1884.
The famous operetta Falka premiered in London at the Comedy Theatre in 1883, and was followed by another successful London premiere, Erminie by Edward Jakobowski, in 1885. The theatre’s fame grew during World War One, thanks to impresarios Charles Blake Cochran and André Charlot presenting hugely popular revues at the venue.
The Comedy Theatre helped establish the New Watergate Club in 1956, a society which helped overturn the stage censorship enforced by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. The formation of the Club meant that the plays banned by the Government could be performed at this venue as it was now being run as a private club rather than a commercial entity. Notable plays in this category include Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The censorship was finally overturned in 1968. The 1950s also saw a major reconstruction of the Comedy Theatre but the auditorium retains most of the Renaissance character originally built in 1881 and the original orchestra pit still exists, though is very rarely used.
The works of Harold Pinter had been performed often at this theatre – productions of The Homecoming, The Caretaker, Moonlight, No-Man’s Land and The Hothouse had all enjoyed successful runs here, and Pinter directed a production of The Old Masters here in 2004. After his death, it was thought fitting to bestow the honour of naming a theatre after him, and the name was officially changed on 13 Oct. 2011 to the Harold Pinter Theatre.
Over recent years, the Harold Pinter has seen a number of limited run plays on its stage, with recent examples including Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hamlet starring Andrew Scott, Oslo and Betrayal. The Harold Pinter Theatre is owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group.
The auditorium has four levels – Stalls, Dress Circle, Royal Circle and Balcony.
The Stalls is a single block of seats, and offers good sightlines other than the last few rows, which have their few impaired by supportive pillars and the overhang of the Dress Circle. This is reflected in the pricing for these seats.
The Dress Circle doesn’t offer a great raking in the seating, but the view is not affected by the overhang of the Royal Circle. There are supportive pillars, however.
The Royal Circle also doesn’t have much of a rake in the seating, and the legroom can be a problem. The seats curve towards the stage more noticeably than the Dress Circle.
The Balcony feels very high in this theatre, though not enough to induce vertigo in sufferers.
Location: West End Railway station: Charing Cross Bus numbers: (Haymarket) 3, 6, 12, 13, 19, 23, 38, 88, 139; (Piccadilly Circus) 14, 22, 94 Night bus numbers: (Haymarket) 6, 12, 23, 139, 88, N3, N13, N18, N19, N38, N97, N136, N550, N551; (Piccadilly Circus) 14, 94, N22 Car park: Leicester Square, Whitcomb Street (1min) Directions from tube: (3mins) Take Coventry Street up to Oxendon Road; the theatre is 100 metres along on the right.