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The Duchess Theatre was fortunate to be commercially successful when it first opened. It could have been affected by the archaic Ancient Lights rule – buildings were prohibited to not block any natural light coming to other buildings. The solution? Build the theatre mostly underground, with the circle at street level.
Its earliest big successes were Noel Coward’s ghost fantasy Blithe Spirit, which transferred and completed its near-2000 performance run, and the shared debut of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker, Pinter’s first triumph in the West End.
The Duchess Theatre has the dubious honour of having hosted the shortest run on the West End ever. The play The Intimate Revue was forced to cancel its run without ever completing their first performance after audience members walked out halfway through.
Among its longest-running productions, Oh Calcutta! called the Duchess Theatre home for much of the 1970s. Although a relatively young theatre, rather impressively it still retains many of its original fixtures – its curtain, stage and some backstage equipment, as well as a lift with its original compartment. But don’t worry: the 80 year old lift is operated with new mechanisms!