Good Venue Guide; 23: PLAYHOUSE THEATRE, WC2

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Date of birth: 11 March 1882.

Brief history: the Playhouse was initially the Avenue Theatre, with Charles Hawtry as a patron; he put on A Man of Honour, the first of several Somerset Maugham plays. Cyril Maude gutted the theatre in 1905 but his dreams of re-styling the auditorium were overshadowed by a construction accident which killed six workmen. In 1907 it re-opened as the Playhouse with a specially written sketch by Bernard Shaw. In the early part of the century it attracted such notable actors as Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and Lawrence Olivier, and played host to the debut of a youthful Alec Guiness in Libel. But misfortune returned in 1939 with the ill-timed staging of Adrian Brunels' German drama, Only Yesterday, in the months preceeding the outbreak of the Second World War (the theatre's shortest-ever run). Business was suspended until after the war when its earlier tradition of high humour - aided by the talents of Peter Ustinov, Michael Redgrave and Thora Hird - was briefly revived. The BBC took over in the Fifties when it became a radio theatre. A decade of decay ensued after the exit of the BBC until Robin Gonshaw saved it in 1987. It is currently owned by Patrick Sulaiman-Cole who purchased the venue in 1996 as a sideline to teaching west-coast thesps at the University of Southern California.

The building: originally built by Sefton Parry, a property speculator, who believed that Charing Cross Station would expand. It is a classic 19th- century single auditorium (760-seater) in French Baroque style.

Uses: short-term runs of mainly drama and one-man shows.

Strange but true: it was briefly owned in the late Eighties by Jeffrey Archer.

Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2 at the bar.

Recommended seats: Dress circle and F & G of the stalls.

Current event: the Almeida and Liam Neeson, in The Judas Kiss, 19 Mar- 18 Apr, tickets pounds 6-pounds 27.50. All bookings on 0171 359 4404.

Getting there: Embankment tube.

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