Albery & Strand Renamed After Coward & NovelloDate: 23 May 2005
As previously tipped (See The Goss, 10 May 2005), the West End’s Albery Theatre is to be renamed in honour of British playwright Noel Coward (1899-1977). As part of a new phase of redevelopment being undertaken by impresario Cameron Mackintosh, the Albery and Strand Theatres will be ‘reinvented’ to the tune of £6 million. The latter will also be given a new name, in honour of composer Ivor Novello (1893-1951).
In 1920, the Albery (then named the New Theatre, first opened in 1903) on St Martin’s Lane hosted Coward’s first-ever play, I’ll Leave It to You. The playwright (pictured) continued to dominate the West End until the early 1940s with a succession of comedies including Fallen Angels, Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Blithe Spirit, The Vortex and Present Laughter, many of which Coward also appeared in.
A contemporary of Coward’s, the Welsh-born Novello also appeared often on stage. His musicals include Glamorous Night, The Dancing Years and King’s Rhapsody, while his song “Keep the Home Fires Burning” was one of the most popular hits during the First World War. He lived above the Strand (first opened 100 years ago today as the Waldorf) in the Aldwych for 38 years.
Commenting on the rechristening of the two theatres - both of which will undergo extensive renovations to improve seating, lavatories, wheelchair access and front-of-house facilities - Mackintosh said: “I thought to follow the example of the renaming of the Globe as the Gielgud Theatre, after John Gielgud in recognition of a great artistic contributor to the London stage. Ivor Novello’s personal connection with the Strand made him an obvious choice, and I’ve long thought the legendary Noel Coward deserved an honour in the West End, a place he did so much to influence and glamorise.”
Today’s announcement of the Albery and Strand renamings follows Mackintosh’s earlier unveiling of plans for a new 500-seat studio space named in honour of American composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The Sondheim Theatre will form part of a new £20 million Shaftesbury Avenue complex that will also comprise the refurbished Gielgud and Queen’s Theatres (See News, 25 Jun 2003).
Mackintosh has already spent £7 million overhauling the Prince of Wales, reopened last year (See News, 20 May 2004). Refurbishment of Wyndham’s Theatre – which, like its neighbour the Albery reverts from the Ambassadors Theatre Group to Mackintosh’s management in October – is planned for next year as part of the impresario’s grand scheme to modernise the West End (See “Cameron’s New Look for London’s Theatreland”, Features, 30 Jun 2003). Wyndham's is named after celebrated actor-manager Charles Wyndham, who built it and the New/Albery Theatre.
The Strand will be reopened as the Novello Theatre this autumn after its refurbishment which begins when its current resident, The Rat Pack, moves to the Savoy at the end of this month (See News, 31 Mar 2005). The Albery will become the Coward towards the end of next year when its work is completed. Its new show, the Irish transfer of The Shaughraun, is currently booking until 24 September 2005 (See News, 6 Apr 2005).
- by Terri Paddock