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A photo of little-known actress Evelyn Laye hangs in the Piccadilly Theatre offices. Why? As well as being the star of the first ever production at the Piccadilly, She is rumoured to haunt the theatre as a poltergeist, and when her photo was taken down in the past, the poltergeist allegedly became violent, throwing objects and slamming doors. Looks like she found a way to be remembered beyond the grave!
The theatre doubled as a cinema in its early days, and was the first to broadcast a talking picture “talkie” in 1928 – The Singing Fool.
The Piccadilly has what can be considered somewhat of a “bad reputation” as it has suffered through a considerable number of flops – so much so, that apparently the people who’d work there would answer the phone with “hello, and thank you for calling the house of flops”. Among them has been the witch-hunt themed Which Witch, a stage adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Romeo and Juliet The Musical which, though well-received in Europe, did not fare as well in the UK.
The theatre, unlike many others that were built upon old theatres, was built on land with unused stables.
Although the first production at the Piccadilly Theatre in 1928 was a hit that ran for a few months, it was immediately taken over by Warner Bros to screen the newest sensation ‘Talkies’, the first films with sound. The Piccadilly was actually the first place in the UK to do so.
Even though it went back to being a theatre shortly after, the Piccadilly struggled to stay afloat and so became the crowd-pleasing ‘London Casino’ where an assortment of entertainment was on display; news clips, cartoons, swing music and comedy were among the attractions you could find there in the 1930s.
Bomb damage post-World War II put a hold on performances, but upon reopening it reverted back to its original theatrical purpose along with its first name. And in the years to come, the Piccadilly had the privilege of hosting The Beatles for a live recording, as well as Broadway transfers of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Streetcar Named Desire.
It diversified even further in the 1990s, with renowned ballet Swan Lake inked in on its schedule as well as Shakespeare productions. Unfortunately, the Piccadilly Theatre is notorious in theatre circles for being a bit failure-prone, with some of the worst West End flops stinking up its stage (Moby Dick, anyone?). Still, things have been looking up in recent years. A two-year run of Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor boasted sold-out nights, and Grease (which cast leads from the ITV reality show Grease is the Word) broke the Piccadilly Theatre’s record for its longest run. Current production Ghost The Musical looks set to follow in their footsteps.