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Albery and Strand to become Coward and Novello



Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IN A REFURBISHMENT programme costing £6 million , the Albery and Strand theatres are to be renamed. The Albery will become the Coward; the Strand, the Novello - in honour of British playwright Noel Coward (1893 - 1977) and composer Ivor Novello (1893 - 1951).

The Albery, then known as the New Theatre, opened in 1903 and in 1920, staged Coward's first-ever play, I'll Leave It to You. That was just the beginning.

For the next 20 years, he dominated the West End with a succession of plays, revues and musicals, among them Fallen Angels, Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Blithe Spirit, The Vortex and Present Laughter. He also starred in many of them.

Welsh-born Novello also appeared on stage many times and his musicals include The Dancing Years and King's Rhapsody; while his song, Keep the Home Fires Burning, was an enormous hit during World War I.

And somewhat fittingly, he lived above the Strand theatre for 38 years, between 1913 and 1951, during which time he wrote some of his most memorable works. The Strand is also home to the annual Ivor Novello Awards.

Both the Albery and Strand theatres are part of the Cameron Mackintosh group and the renaming follows a growing trend of honouring artists whose contributions to theatre have been remarkable.

The Gielgud is one example - named, of course, for the great Sir John Gielgud - as indeed, is Mackintosh's more recent plan for a new 500-seat studio space named in honour of American composer/lyricist, Stephen Sondheim.

The latter will be part of a new £20 million Shaftesbury Avenue complex which will also include the refurbished Gielgud and Queen's theatres.

The renovation of the Albery/Coward and Strand/Novello will include improved seating, toilets, wheelchair access and front-of-house facilities.

In a bid to modernise the West End, Mackintosh has already spent £7 million overhauling the Prince of Wales theatre, with the Wyndham's - which, like the Albery, will come under Mackintosh management in October - next on the agenda.

As a matter of interest, the Wyndham's theatre is named after Charles Wyndham, the celebrated actor/manager who had it built.

The Strand is expected to reopen this autumn; the Albery, towards the end of next year. The latter's new show, The Shaughraun, is currently booking until September 24, 2005.

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