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
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,
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
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.