facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close home newspaper-o perm_device_information restaurant school stay_current_landscape ticket train
Sylvestra Le Touzel and Kristin Scott Thomas play Margaret Thatcher and Her Majesty The Queen in The Audience (Photo: Johan Persson)

Sylvestra Le Touzel and Kristin Scott Thomas play Margaret Thatcher and Her Majesty The Queen in The Audience (Photo: Johan Persson)

Jubilee special: 70 years of theatreland

Kitty Underwood

By Kitty Underwood First Published 2 June 2022, Last Updated 6 December 2022

When Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne in June 1952, the world was a different place! While theatres have existed in London’s West End since the 1600s, theatre and the West End have constantly changed with the times and have endured ups and downs alongside the country over the last 70 years.

As Elizabeth Windsor became Queen Elizabeth II, London theatres were recovering from the dip of the great depression and rebuilding (sometimes literally) after the impact of World War II on audiences and on their buildings. Both the Queens Theatre and the Piccadilly Theatre were directly hit by bombs during the blitz, and many others were damaged.

A lot has happened over the last seven decades in theatres and the theatre worlds, so here are some of the big moments in theatre that have happened in Queen Elizabeth’s reign:

70 years of the Mousetrap

In November 1952, the stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap first opened in the West End at the Ambassadors Theatre. It has enjoyed the longest run by far of any play on the West End. Not only that, but the play’s twist ending remains a secret 70 years in the keeping! In November 2002, a special 50th anniversary performance was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

The Mousetrap

Theatres tranformed

Pretty much all of the West End theatres have existed before Queen Elizabeth’s reign and many before her birth – there has been a theatre on the site of Theatre Royal Drury Lane since the 1660s! But Queen Elizabeth has seen many rebrands, renamings and refurbishments in her time. During these 70 years, many theatres are renamed to recognise shining talents in British theatre; the New London Theatre becomes the Gillian Lynne, the Albery Theatre becomes the Noël Coward, the Comedy Theatre becomes the Harold Pinter, and the Strand becomes the Novello Theatre in honour of the Welsh actor and songwriter who lived above it for some time!

Since the West End’s theatres are in such beautiful historic buildings, they have been constantly changing over the last seven decades to make themselves more comfortable and accessible to audiences.

The Novello Theatre London hosts Mamma Mia!

The Queen sees herself on stage

As well as screen adaptations, the Queen’s 70 years on the throne have also seen her portrayed on stage many times. As Liz in Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, which imagines conversations between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher; played by Helen Mirren and Kristin Scott Thomas in The Audience and even in Alan Bennett’s A Question Of Attribution, where she has a conversation with a spy.

Theatre Censorship ends!

Brought in under Sir Robert Walpole after the rise of political theatre in the 1730s, this gave the Lord Chamberlain the power to censor plays that were critical of the government, and only plays granted a license by the government could be performed in public theatres.

In January 1968, the 1737 Licensing Act was abolished after the controversy around Edward Bond’s 1965 play ‘Saved’, which was set on a council estate and examined poverty in young people in the UK. Plays no longer need to be approved by the government to be performed freely.

The Palladium hosts 43 Royal Variety Performances

The first Royal Variety Performance took place under Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George V in 1912. Proceeds from each year’s show go to the Royal Variety Charity, which supports those in the entertainment industry in need and has Queen Elizabeth II as life-patron.

Alongside the Palladium, the Royal Variety has often been hosted at the London Coliseum and has seen shows at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, The Dominion Theatre, Victoria Palace Theatre, Royal Albert Hall, London Hippodrome, Prince of Wales Theatre, Palace Theatre and Lyceum Theatre as well as a variety of venues around the UK.


Sign up

Related articles