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Being the home of the English National Opera must mean a history of grand operatic productions, right? Not so for the London Coliseum, whose purpose when it was erected in 1904 was to be a venue for the crowd-pleasing variety show, or a “people’s palace of entertainment”. Having said that, its ‘Pit’ was noticeably absent – and, nope, that’s not a pit intended for a magnificent orchestra, but where the rabble-rousers and working class would sit.
The London Coliseum went above and beyond, installing an unheard of 2,358 seats, building a revolving stage and offering top-of-the-range luxurious house facilities. Unfortunately, the investment didn’t pay off and it was forced to close a mere two years later. Luckily, in 1907 it reopened and had considerably more success with its variety shows for a number of years. By the 1930s though, this was no longer profitable and it changed its name to the ‘Coliseum Theatre’, putting on a selection of musicals, ballets and pantos for many years. A crop of American musicals performed particularly well in the ‘40s and ‘50s, including Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate and Guys and Dolls.
By the 1960s however, even this revenue source dried up and the theatre was forced to convert itself into a ‘super-cinema’ for the main chunk of the decade. It was only when the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company – today known as the English National Opera – relocated in 1968 that it was restored as a theatrical venue with a brand new orchestra pit. Eventually buying the theatre in 1992, the ENO fixed it up completely in the early 2000s, making it a venue fit for the Queen when the Royal Variety Performance was held there in 2004 and 2006.