The Cambridge is one of the youngest and most attractive theatres in the West End.
The theatre opened on 4 September 1930, built by its first manager B A Meyer, to designs by architects Wimperis Simpson and Guthrie. Constructed by Gee Walker and Slater Ltd, the interior decoration was by Serge Chemayeff of Waring and Gillow. The first production was André Charlot’s revue Masquerade with Beatrice Lillie, followed by Charles Laughton in the Edgar Wallace thriller On the Spot.
The size of the auditorium means that The Cambridge Theatre operates most successfully as a musical house but is intimate enough for plays too. Some of the most notable dramas include George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (1943) starring Edith Evans, Robert Donat, Ursula Jeans and, making her stage debut, Deborah Kerr, William Douglas Home’s The Reluctant Debutante (1955-1956) and Billy Liar (1960 -1962) by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall.
Other dramatic productions, generally with star casts, included Margaret Lockwood in Signpost to Murder (1962), Patrick Wymark in John Mortimer’s play The Judge (1967), a season by the National Theatre Company included Hedda Gabler and Cyrano de Bergerac (1970), Ingrid Bergman in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1971), Ralph Richardson in John Osborne’s West of Suez (1971), Ian McKellen as Hamlet (1971), Janet Suzman in The Three Sisters (1976), Nyree Dawn Porter in Anastasia. (1976), The Last of Mrs Cheyney starred Joan Collins (1980) and Peter O’Toole in Shaw’s Man and Superman (1980).
Successful revues at The Cambridge include a revival of 1066 and All That (1937), Cecil Landau’s revue Sauce Tartare (1949) and its sequel Sauce Piquant, (1950) in which Audrey Hepburn was a member of the chorus, Behind the Fridge (1972) with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Derren Brown in Something Wicked this Way Comes (2005) and the Motown musical Dancing in the Streets (2005).
Productions of Operetta have included A Night in Venice (1944) by Johann Strauss, Lizbeth Webb as The Merry Widow (1963), John Hanson in Bernard Delfont and Emile Littler’s revival of The Desert Song (1968), Michael Denison played Pooh Bah with an otherwise all black cast in The Black Mikado (1975), and the New D’Oyly Carte Company was launched with productions of Iolanthe and The Yeoman of the Guard (1988).
Various versions of Peter Pan have enjoyed seasons at the theatre with Glynis Johns as the boy who won’t grow up in J. M Barrie’s play (1943), Lulu flying around George Cole’s Captain Hook in the American musical version of the story (1987) and Ron Moody and Nicola Stapleton in Peter Pan – The British Musical (1994).
Musicals to appear at the Cambridge more than once include two successful runs of Fame (1995 and 2001) and Kander and Ebb’s Chicago. The original London production of Chicago (1977) played here and the record breaking revival transferred from the Adelphi theatre in 2006 playing for over five years.
Other American musicals include the New Orleans musical One Mo’ Time (1981) starring Vernel Bagneris and a three year run of Grease (1996) having transferred from the Dominion. The majority of the musicals to play here have been home grown and met with varying degrees of success including Budgie – The Musical (1988), Sherlock Holmes – The Musical (1989), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game (2000) and Our House (2002) the Madness musical.
The first musical play at The Cambridge was Kong (1931) with Oscar Asche and Ursula Jeans which was swiftly followed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry and Matheson Lang in Elizabeth of England (1931). In the 1960s the building was home to Harold Fielding’s enormously successful production of Half a Sixpence (1963) starring Tommy Steele and Bruce Forsyth played no fewer than eight roles opposite Avril Angers in the Neil Simon musical Little Me (1964).
For three years The Cambridge was home to Bob Carlton’s Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet (1989) and the National Theatre transferred the controversial but highly successful production of Jerry Springer – The Opera (2003). Today the West End transfer of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical (2011) is playing to packed houses.
Tom Arnold and Prince Littler took control of The Cambridge Theatre in 1950 and the interior decoration scheme was renewed. For many years the theatre was under the management of Emile Littler. The Cambridge Theatre was taken over by Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd in 1986, after a brief closure following a disastrous attempt to turn the building into a permanent venue for magic shows called The Magic Castle of Seven Dials and the interior was completely restored to its original glory under the supervision of Carl Toms. In 2000 The Cambridge became a Really Useful Theatre when Lord Lloyd-Webber and Bridgepoint Capital purchased Stoll Moss Theatres Ltd. Since December 2005 the Cambridge Theatre has been owned 100% by The Really Useful Group Limited.
Mark Fox, with thanks to George Hoare and the Theatrical Bibliography