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A water tank was kept under the stage in the 1930s – which held dolphins! Some report to still hear spooky dolphin noises today.
The theatre was home to Barnardo, considered one of the worst musicals ever staged. The curtain went down the last time after 43 critically panned performances.The London Opera House existed on this site 1911-1912, before having to close its doors due to competition in Covent Garden, where the operas performed attracted bigger names and bigger audiences. It was owned by Oscar Hammerstein during this time.
It was used as a cinema 1917 to 1940, when it was forced to close. It reopened as a theatre a year later.
It has had a total of six names in its lifetime – London Opera House, National Theatre of England, Stoll Theatre, Stoll Picture Theatre, The Royalty Theatre and finally the Peacock Theatre.
Used as a TV studio for the filming of television programme This is Your Life, the Peacock was bought by the London School of Economics which gave it its current name.
The earliest record of a theatre sitting where the Peacock Theatre flutters its theatrical feathers today is in 1660, when a woman appeared on stage for the first time in Shakespeare’s Othello. But it wasn’t until 1911 that the fire-damaged original theatre was rebuilt as the magnificent 2,600-seater ‘London Opera House’. Of course, competing in those days with the Royal Opera House nearby (which had the best names in opera on its bill) was never going to be the best idea. It closed by 1912, and took another few years to reopen as the ‘Stoll Picture Theatre’, screening silent films with an in-house orchestra alongside occasional variety show performances.
The theatre had found its niche – that is, up until 1957 when it was knocked down and replaced by a boxy office block. As compensation, the old owners were allowed to build a modest 1000-seat theatre in the office basement almost ironically dubbed ‘The Royalty Theatre’ which opened in 1960. But the scaled-down venue only saw moderate success, with its novel drag shows a little too ahead of their time, and for years it was used as a TV studio for the series This is Your Life.
This era ended when the London School of Economics bought the building to use as a lecture theatre, giving it the recognisable name ‘The Peacock Theatre’. But it only became a performance venue again when dance company Sadler’s Wells scouted it as a West End home. So the Peacock Theatre today maintains somewhat of a double identity: serious student lectures by day, colourful displays of dancing feats by night.