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The ghost believed to be that of Violet Melnotte, a one-time owner of the theatre until her death in the 1930s, has been heard from her old box and seen in the backstage green room from time to time.
The theatre changed its name from ‘Trafalgar’ to ‘Duke of York’s’ in honour of the man who would later become King George V.
Puccini, after seeing a production of Madame Butterfly here, was inspired to write the famous opera of the same name. His opera was performed at the Duke of York’s 30 years later.
The theatre was owned by Capital Radio from 1979 to 1992.
Never mind health and safety – the theatre was one of the only theatres to allow real log fires to be lit in the auditorium!
Charlie Chaplin made his stage debut at the Duke of York’s, starring in a production of Sherlock Holmes at just 14 years old.
The Duke of York’s early history is probably most notable for its production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, which was the first time the tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up entered the public consciousness. Frohman even reportedly quoted the play just before his tragic premature death on a sinking ship, proclaiming “Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure that life gives us”. His death brought on a creative transition in the Duke of York’s Theatre towards opera and ballet. It even witnessed legendary British ballet dancers Dame Alicia Markova and Sir Anton Dolin on its stage.
Going through a phase of troubled management in the 1950s, when two productions ran for three nights and one night respectively, by the late 1970s the theatre was restored to its original cream and gold décor and rejuvenated with several well-received productions – among them Rose with Glenda Jackson; American Buffalo with Al Pacino and Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine. Today the Duke of York’s is still a superb venue for sleeper hit plays and musicals that fill its 650-person capacity.