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During World War II, the theatre was bombed – but plays kept being put on, even amongst the rubble.
It’s had three previous names – The Waldorf Theatre, The Whitney Theatre and The Strand Theatre, only adopting its current moniker in 2005.
The Novello Theatre was the first theatre Queen Elizabeth went to for an evening performance in the West End (then called the Strand Theatre). The play was Arsenic and Old Lace.
It was named after Ivor Novello because the composer/actor lived in a flat above the theatre for 38 years.
Built as the Waldorf Theatre to accompany the nearby Waldorf Hotel in 1905, its first ten years of productions were erratic, only garnering a real hit in 1913 sporting the new name the Strand Theatre. Despite this rough start, the theatre earned a resilient reputation during bomb raids in the First World War, putting on productions even when the theatre itself was targeted.
It didn’t escape the wrath of bombs during the Second World War either, yet incredibly it had its most successful run to date in war time with the black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace from 1942 to 1946. This spurred a trend of multi-year runs in every decade with Sailor Beware in the ‘50s (three years), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forumin the ‘60s (two years), an astonishing 11 year run of No Sex Please, We’re British starting in the ‘70s, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing in the ‘80s (3 years) and the Buddy Holly musical Buddy in the ‘90s (seven years).
After a two year Rat Pack residency in the ‘00s kept up the pattern, the ‘Strand Theatre’ closed for 6 months for a 100th birthday £3 million refurbishment and new name ‘Novello Theatre’. But this overhaul seemed to destroy some of its magic, with two back-to-back flops lasting only two months each in 2007 – The Drowsy Chaperone due to poor sales and the Blondie musical Desperately Seeking Susan getting a critical lashing. It’s not been all bad though; its RSC seasons of Shakespeare productions have performed extremely well, and several of its musicals were short-term smashes.