Dominion Theatre

268-269 Tottenham Court Road,
London, W1T 5AQ

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Dominion Theatre

Located in London’s West End at the junction of New Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road known as St. Giles Circus, the Dominion Theatre was built on an expanded site previously occupied by the Court Cinema and Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery. Designed by architect’s William Milburn and Thomas Ridley Milburn at a cost of £459,727, the Dominion Theatre opened on 3rd October, 1929 with a live show;the musical comedy “Follow Through” starring Elsie Randolph which only ran for 148 performances. It was followed by another musical “Silver Wings”, which again was short lived. This was followed by a two week variety season headed by Maurice Chevalier. The original seating capacity was for 2,835, with 1,340 in the orchestra stalls, 818 in the dress circle and 677 in the balcony(upper circle) level. The proscenium is 54 feet wide.

The first film to be screened was the belatedly held British premiere of Lon Chaney in “The Phantom of the Opera” on 21st July 1930, with writer H.G. Wells attending. On 6th October 1930 it was taken over by Associated British Cinemas(ABC), but they operated the theatre for only four months. At Christmas 1930 the pantomime “Aladdin” was staged until February 1931. It was then leased to United Artists and Charlie Chaplin appeared ‘in person’ on the first night of the UK Premiere of “City Lights”, and he took a bow and spoke from the stage at the end of his ‘silent’ film in a ‘talkie’ era. In September 1931 a variety programme on stage played for a week starring Jeanette Macdonald and in May 1932, Richard Tauber appeared in a revival of “The Land of Smiles”. On 15th January 1933 the Dominion Theatre was taken over by Gaumont British Theatres and became a full time cinema. A Compton 3Manual/12Rank theatre organ was installed and there was a large cafe located over the main foyer which was eventually closed on 15th June 1957.

Occasional live shows from 1957 included one week of performances by Sophie Tucker in April 1957. Tommy Steele played for a week in May 1957. Judy Garland appeared from 16th October until 16th November 1957 in her one woman show. These live shows interrupted the films until the cinema closed on 28th December 1957 with the Norman Wisdom film “Just My Luck”. It staged one final stage production when one month of performances of “The Broken Date” performed by Le Ballet-Theatre Paris was staged in February 1958.

A Todd-AO system was installed with a screen 46 feet wide screen that had a 5 feet curvature. The balcony(upper circle) seating level was closed off and converted into offices. The cinema now had 2,172 seats in stalls and dress circle levels. A new projection box was built at the rear of the orchestra stalls that was equipped with 35mm/70mm Phillips projectors. The Dominion Theatre began a new life as a ‘Roadshow’ cinema from 21st April 1958 with the record breaking run of 4 years 22 weeks which was achieved for "South Pacific". The same print was used throughout its run, which closed on 30th September 1962. This was followed by “Porgy and Bess” presented in Todd-AO. "Cleopatra" followed for another long run and then "Sound of Music" which ran from 29th March 1965 to 31st June 1968. Following a redecoration, Julie Andrews in “Star” had its world premiere on 18th July 1968 but its subsequent run was not a great success.

On 8th November 1981, it returned to live shows with just occasional films ("Star Wars-Return of the Jedi" in June 1983).

Hit shows to play in recent years include the Dave Clark produced musical “Time” staring Cliff Richard which opened in April 1986 and ran for 2 years. In 1987, the Rank Organisation sold the theatre to developers who planned to demolished and build a hotel on the site. English Heritage designated the Dominion Theatre a Grade II Listed building in 1988. Rank leased the theatre back from the developers and the planned demolition was halted by a Public Enquiry in June 1990.

The Dominion Theatre was taken over by the American based Nedlander group and it was again refurbished with a reduced capacity of 2,069 seats. It re-opened with a stage production of “Grand Hotel”. In 2012 the Freddie Mercury based musical “We Will Rock You” opened, which played for 12 years and closed on 31st May 2014. After that show closed, the Dominion Theatre underwent a complete redecoration and refurbishment. It re-opened in September 2014 with a revival of “Evita” which was followed in November 2014 by a stage production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”.

Cinema use returned in late-February 2015 when Disney’s “Frozen – Sing-Along” was digitally presented from 18-28 February 2015, and on the evening of 26th February 2015 a Gala presentation of the film “The Backstreet Boys” followed by a live concert by the group which will be telecast to cinemas across Europe. The next cinema presentation will be Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with ‘Live Orchestra’ on 4th March 2015.

Contributed by Ian Grundy, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 52 comments)

cultman1 on August 28, 2015 at 11:51 am

regrettably no. The Dominion has reverted back to theatre events. I would have gone like a shot… Has anyone a photo of the Todd AO screen installed at the Dominion from 1958-1974 when roadshows were a staple diet of this venue… would be fascinated to see…

boristhebassman on January 27, 2016 at 5:16 am

My first visit to a west end cinema was to see South Pacific – an experience still very much in my memory nearly 60 years later.

cultman1 on January 27, 2016 at 6:10 am

Good remembering these golden days I just wish someone had a photo of the screen during the Todd AO days at this landmark cinema

vindanpar on January 27, 2016 at 7:35 am

Interesting that a theater of this enormous size could show South Pacific for 4 years and Sound of Music for 3(maybe longer if 20th Century didn’t want it for Star. It was pulled from NY’s Rivoli despite management’s objections because the studio wanted it for Sand Pebbles.)

I too would love to see interior photos from its roadshow days.

cultman1 on January 27, 2016 at 7:43 am

couldn’t agree more. Maybe Ken Roe has some photos he could post? It is astonishing there are no photos of these TODD AO screens surviving anywhere? Also I would love to see photos of The Astoria screen and Metropole Victoria screens too from this famous period…

vindanpar on August 7, 2016 at 5:03 am

46 ft seems pretty small for a screen for a major London roadshow house.

Especially for films like SOM, Cleopatra and Lawrence.

cultman1 on August 11, 2016 at 2:13 am

it certainly does although I must say as a 10 year old seeing the matinee of the SOM in March 1966 it looked enormous

Jasonmullen on September 9, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Arthur has some fascinating info and new photos of this Theatre added recently. Incidentally my mother a drama student at the time worked as an usherette on South Pacific. She saw it more times then she would have liked.

vindanpar on September 9, 2018 at 1:13 pm

The above picture seems like the early 70s when the film was re-released yet the artwork is the original.

In New York the re-release used new artwork. So what year was the picture taken?

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