Designed by C. J. Phipps, the Vaudeville theatre opened in 1870 and, at the time of its opening, was – as the name suggests – largely used for the vaudeville style of entertainment, with short-form performances by a variety of entertainers including dancers, singers, comedians and actors.
The opening production was a comedy called For Love Or Money. This was closely followed by a controversial burlesque show called Don Carlos or the Infante in Arms. The opening year also saw Henry Irving star in his first commercial success in James Albery’s Two Roses, which ran at the venue for just over 300 performances. Following this was H. J. Byron’s Our Boys, which ran at the theatre for a record-breaking 1000 performances from 1875. In 1894, a dance comedy called The French Maid caused quite a stir with its risqué costumes.
While the venue presented many light-hearted productions in its early days, the Vaudeville also hosted serious plays including the world premier of Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm as well as a run of his infamous tragedy Hedda Gabler.
The Vaudeville was demolished and rebuilt between 1889 and 1891, heralding a long and successful era of musicals, plays and revues. Notable hits included the musical The Catch of the Season, which ran for 621 performances from 1904, and the post World War II play The Chiltern Hundreds, which ran for 659 performances.
The Vaudeville continues to present a variety of genres, although the modern shows produced there are almost exclusively straight dramas rather than musicals.
Some notable productions at the Vaudeville Theatre include The Man Most Likely in 1968, Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit in 1986, the 1997 production of She Knows You Know and Kat and the Kings in 1998.
The venue was the home of the inventive musical experience STOMP for just over five years, until the production transferred to the Ambassadors theatre in 2007. Since its departure the Vaudeville has chosen to programme much shorter runs of plays, never extending past four months. Over the past few years the venue's big hitters have included the 2010 revival of Private Lives starring Kim Cattrall, An Ideal Husband in 2011, Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw, Uncle Vanya in 2012, Broken Glass and the return of the vintage smash hit, The Ladykillers.