This week marks the anniversary of the theatre named after the great British playwright. 137 years have gone by since October 15th 1981,when in Pantom Street, the Royal Comedy Theatre opened its doors with the performance of the comedy “The Mascotte” attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Designed by the famous theatre architect Thomas Verity and built in just six months by JH Addison in accordance with the fire regulations which had just been issued, the Harold Pinter Theatre is one the three West End theatres predating 1890 (the other two are the Royal Opera House and the Criterion Theatre) with an auditorium which still has its original shape, with three tiers of horse shoe balconies.
Renamed the “Comedy Theatre” in 1884, (legend has it that its first owner did not have the authorization to use the word “royal,”) throughout following years the theatre launched many important actors including Marie Tempest and the you American John Barrymore who made his debut there in 1905.
The theatre’s fame grew as from the First World War when famous impresarios Sir Charles Blake Cochran and André Charlot began to perform their musical shows there.
However it was in the 1950s that the Comedy Theatre made the headlines. It dared to defy the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain – whose duty in England until 1968 it was to approve each work before it was performed in public, forbidding any contents deemed seditious or offensive – by putting on works such as “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller, “Tea and Sympathy” by Robert Anderson, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams and the controversial “Five Finger Exercise” by Peter Shaffer which was performed for two years.
Classified as “Grade II” in 1972 – a building recognized and protected for its exceptional historical, architectural or cultural characteristics which cannot be demolished or modified without a special permit – in 2011 the Comedy Theatre changed its name.
On September 7th the owners – the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) – announced that as from October 13th 2011 the theatre would be called the Harold Pinter Theatre in honour of our dear Harold who had passed away in 2008.
On that occasion Howard Panter, creative director of the ATG, declared to the BBC : “”The work of Pinter has become an integral part of the history of the Comedy Theatre. The renaming of one of our most successful West End theatres is a fitting tribute to a man who made such a mark on British theatre and who, over his 50-year career, became recognized as one of the most influential modern British dramatists.”