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Thanks to the backing of an American investor, the Aldwych was built in 1905 in a pair with the Waldorf Theatre (today’s Novello Theatre) with which it shares an identical exterior and Georgian style. It was described as “cosy and comfortable” when opened, and that still applies today. The highlights of its early years were the honour of debuting the first Chekhov play in Britain (which have since been abundant in the West End), namely The Cherry Orchard. It also witnessed a collection of plays dubbed ‘The Aldwych Farces’ in the ‘20s and ‘30s, which made the comedic genre ever more popular.
It escaped a demolition threat in the late ‘50s to end up playing the London home to the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1960 onwards. A residency intended to last only 3 years, it continued until 1982 (22 years in total) before its move to the Barbican. The leasing out worked in their favour, as it earned them a £75,000 makeover (that’s £545,000 at today’s prices!), and in between RSC productions hosted an annual selection of foreign plays in their original language, dubbed ‘World Theatre Season’.
With big stars Vivien Leigh and Joan Collins having graced its stage in its one-hundred-year-plus history, in recent years the Aldwych has been a semi-consistent residence for musicals, including Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind, Fame and the immensely popular Dirty Dancing, which closed following a five year run in 2011.