Thomas Edward Collcutt designed the Palace Theatre, which opened in 1891. Back then it was known as the Royal English Opera House, intended to stage operatic productions. After the closure of its first production (Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe), the theatre was sold by its commissioner, Richard D’Oyly Carte, at a loss to Sir Augustus Harris, who changed the name to The Palace Theatre of Varieties. Harris also struggled to make a success of the venue and in 1893 hired a new managing director, Charles Morton (known as the ‘Father of Music Halls’) to turn it around. Morton was succeeded by Alfred Butt in 1904, who enticed the likes of Buster Keaton, Fanny Brice and Nijinsky to perform at the theatre, known officially from 1911 as, simply, The Palace Theatre. He also hosted the very first Royal Variety Performance in 1912.
From 1921, Charles B. Cochrane took over the reins and ran the theatre as a cinema, with The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, starring Rudolph Valentino, running for 22 weeks in 1922. It was during the 1920s that musical productions began to appear, with No, No, Nanette in 1925 and Rodgers and Hart’s 1927 production of The Girl Friend, whilst the 1930s saw Fred Astaire grace the London stage for the final time in Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce before making his move to Hollywood.
Musicals began appearing more regularly at the theatre from the 1960s, with The Sound of Music in 1961, and the British premiere of Cabaret in 1968 with a young Judi Dench in the role of Sally Bowles. The theatre saw its first long running musical with the premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s new show Jesus Christ Superstar which took up residence for eight years from 1972. Lloyd Webber returned to the theatre in 1982 with his latest production Song and Dance, and bought the theatre during the run of the show. But it was Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables that stole the title for longest running production at the Palace Theatre, racking up an incredble 7,602 performances from 1985 – 2004, before moving to the Queen’s Theatre. The show’s move allowed for a renovation of the interior of the theatre before Andrew Lloyd Webber swept in again with The Woman in White in September 2004. A host of musicals have followed, but the theatre’s latest tenant is a play - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which officially opens in July 2016.
The Palace Theatre was bought by Nimax Theatres in April 2012.
Fun Fact - the theatre is said to be haunted by the ghost of an unknown ballerina, and the ghost of Ivor Novello has been spotted watching performances from the Dress Circle.
The auditorium has four levels - Stalls, Dress Circle, Grand Circle, Balcony. The seats in the Stalls are lightly raked, and most notably from Row N onwards, but the overhang of the Dress Circle impacts the view from Row S onwards.
In the Dress Circle, the view is impaired in Row H onwards by the overhang of the Grand Circle.
In the Grand Circle there isn't as much legroom as in the lower levels of the theatre, and this level is considered to be quite high. The front two rows curve towards the stage for the outer most seats.
The seats in the Balcony are extremely high, and audience members should be advised that people who suffer with vertigo may struggle.