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Queen’s Theatre is the home to one of the oddest ghosts of the theatre – one that likes to pinch bottoms! And apparently, only of male cast members too.
Its current show, Les Miserables, is London’s longest-running musical. It was at its previous home, the Palace Theatre, for 19 years.
The ‘queen’ that the theatre is named after is Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, who was on the throne when the theatre opened its doors in 1907.
When the regally-named Queen’s Theatre opened in 1907, it was almost called the much blander ‘Central Theatre’. Luckily, George Bernard Shaw was wise enough to observe that this made it sound like “a criminal court or a railway terminus”, and so it became the Queen’s Theatre. But it was a few years before the theatre took off, as its debut play and many that followed demonstrated poor runs. It wasn’t until the novel 1913 Tango Teas, where the stalls were turned into a tea room, that the Queen’s Theatre’s fate became a little brighter.
The Queen’s Theatre wasn’t afraid to put on ground-breaking shows – two of its biggest hits in the 1920s were about sex problems in marriage and a murder trial. But this controversial period steered into a far more traditional one when John Gielgud made his Hamlet debut here in the ‘30s, leading up to a ‘Gielgud Season’ of plays that allegedly paved the way for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Companies.
Tragedy struck in 1940 when, during a production of Rebecca, a bomb hit the Queen’s Theatre and caused so much destruction that it took 20 years and £250,000 for it to reopen, which when it did happen theatre critics deemed a “miracle”. This new lease of life for Queen’s Theatre saw cabaret seasons, as well as Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Firth tread its boards (all in the same play!). This exciting era settled down in 2004, when Queen’s welcomed the established musical Les Misérables to its stage, where it broke the record for the longest-running musical ever in 2006, overtaking Cats.