Apollo Victoria Theatre, London
Current show: The Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire
Originally built as a ‘super-cinema’ and called the New Victoria Cinema when it opened on Wednesday 15 October 1930 with the film Old English. adapted from the stage play by John Galsworthy. This strikingly art deco cinema was designed, as were all super-cinemas of the period, with facilities for stage shows that would precede the cinema films. The auditorium was designed to represent a fairy palace under the sea and a newspaper at the time described that, «although the colouring of the carpets and upholstery is vivid enough, a wonderful impression of coolness is given by the silver-painted walls and green lighting. To enter the auditorium is like entering one’s childhood idea of a mermaid’s cave, or a grotto under the sea. There are gracefully curved pillars either side of the stage, which merge into oyster shape at the top, and the lighting behind the columns changes from sea-green to delicate coral pink.» With sound amplification only in its infancy in the 1930s, there was some resistance to these large ‘super-cinemas’ leading one newspaper commentator to complain that: «The New Victoria Cinema has been opened during the week — ‘to hold 3,000 people.’ But are not the films building for today on the principles of yesterday? The silent film was excellently suited to a huge building, but for the ‘talkies’ great size is a disadvantage, for it tends to make the play inaudible. Shall we be driven back to the wordless film because we have built big house; or shall we now start and build small and intimate houses in order that we may hear the talkies in comfort.»
The cinema closed in 1975, then reopened for live music venue on 15 September 1980 under its present name. The opeПing show was a Shirley Bassey concert — and a review saying that «it was a tough test for the newly restored theatre, but it survived — no falling plaster or cracked Art Deco lampshades. The Apollo Victoria (formerly the New Victoria) is one of those medium-to-large cinemas now permanently given over to popular music. It was always good for sound, but now, with its plush interior rejuvenated, it’s also a nice place to be.» Since then other productions included The Sound of Music with Petula Clark in 1981, Camelot with Richard Harris in 1982, Dash with Wayne Sleep in 1983 and Fiddler on the Roof with Topol also in 1983. Then 1,262 seats were removed to accommodate a roller-skating track and much of the auditorium was painted black for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express which opened on 27 March 1984 and played for 7,406 performances up to 12 January 2002. After it closed the theatre was extensively refurbished — including the reinstatement of the seats removed to accommodate the skating track — and the interior was once again returned to its former glory after which the new musical Bombay Dreams. presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber in his producing capacity, opened on 19 June 2002.