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Its current show, The Phantom of the Opera, is the longest-running musical in the West End to stay at one venue (24 years). Les Misérables has been running one year longer, but changed theatres in 1985 (its opening year) and 2004.
The home of The Phantom of the Opera is fittingly supposed to be haunted by a real phantom – that of Sir Beerbohm-Tree, for whom the theatre was built in 1897. His favourite place in Her Majesty’s Theatre was the stage right top box, and ghostly activity still occurs there today.
The first theatre on the site was in 1975 and called the Queen’s, named after Queen Anne (not to be confused with today’s Queen’s Theatre). Its name changed every time the gender of the monarch on the throne did, so it has also been known as The King’s Theatre and His Majesty’s Theatre. The ‘majesty’ title was adopted from 1837 with a previous theatre on the site. Will its name change again when a King takes over Elizabeth’s throne?
ITV’s ‘80s variety series Live From Her Majesty’s was broadcast from here, and it was on this stage that Tommy Cooper infamously dropped dead in front of a live audience and millions watching at home in 1984.
Her Majesty’s Theatre is the second oldest site used for theatre in London, after the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
A theatre built in 1897 is hardly considered ‘old’ in the world of theatres, but Her Majesty’s Theatre can certainly make a case for it, with its first building dating back to 1705 when it was simply known as the Queen’s Theatre. Despite reportedly having terrible acoustics, it didn’t stop the theatre debuting some of the most legendary composers of the time, including plenty of operas by Handel and Bach.
The next theatre on the site (replacing its fire-ravaged predecessor) continued to be a theatre of firsts, putting on London opera premieres of the most famous names in music – Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Verdi and Beethoven. All this prestige earned it the nickname ‘The Italian Opera House’ and the reputation of theplace to be seen if you were a 19th century socialite. But yet another fire meant another building, but this incarnation managed only one notable honour in 1878 when it premiered the legendary opera Carmen. It was eventually demolished in the 1890s before it exchanged hands to be built into the theatre we see today.
This new theatre moved away from its operatic tradition, instead finding its biggest successes in the ever more popular genre of musical theatre. The 1916 ‘musical tale of the east’ Chu Chin Chow smashed records of the time, while milestones were reached by both West Side Story (1,000 performances) and Fiddler on the Roof (2,000 performances). This tradition has continued with the 10,000 performance run (and counting!) of The Phantom of the Opera, which has never missed a single performance since its 1986 premiere, despite major works to restore the Her Majesty’s Theatre in the meantime.