Dominion Theatre

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

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Dominion Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 and 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” opened but 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 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 43 comments)

Gooper on June 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Just like in the photo above, I saw ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ here in 1970, a splendid presentation, naturally.

Ian on July 4, 2012 at 3:10 am

And for a comparison some interior shots from 1990, before restoration :–





rasLXR on March 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Michael Zoldessy posted in commentary about South Pacific I have added my post onto here. SOUTH PACIFIC AT THE DOMINION 55th Anniversary on 21st April 2013. The film ran 4 years and 22 weeks. The Dominion used one show print and one stand by print, the show print was used throughout the run apart from a few shows when the show print was sent for cleaning on those occasions the stand by was run. The projection team were awarded a special bonus by the distributor at the end of the run for their care and professionalism. I noticed John Carpenter in the documentary side by side saying how the prints of Titanic were falling to bits out of the projectors, if he had been more accurate he should have said that film is not the problem in exhibition but the lack of skilled projection staff is the problem. I ran the last show on the Dominions DP70’s (A Star Is Born with B.Streisand also 70mm print) the booth was removed and the film continued the next day from the new booth with Vic 8s at the rear of the circle. This was the 3rd booth in the Dominion the original at the rear of the upper balcony was closed for South Pacific and onward due to the rake. The original booth is still there. R

3payne on April 23, 2013 at 6:54 am

My father was manager of this cinema late 1950’s possibly early 1960’s…he met several stars Judy garland etc..

cultman1 on February 19, 2015 at 7:50 am

it is interesting to see The Dominion is showing movies again as at February 18th 2015, even if it is just Disney’s Frozen sing a long. I wonder if the original projection box and screen area is being used?

cultman1 on February 19, 2015 at 7:56 am

With the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music Movie this year and The Dominion’s 50th anniversary of the UK premiere next month, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could stage a Todd AO screening to celebrate this important landmark in the theatre’s history? They are currently in between progammes there….

DavidZornig on August 27, 2015 at 7:00 pm

Just added an incredible photo of The Court Theatre in 1927, a year or two before being torn down to build the Dominion Theatre. Credit: Stockholm Transport Museum Photo, courtesy of the Who Knows East – Old Photographs Facebook page. Since The Court Theatre has no CT page, and occupied the same site and address as the Dominion Theatre, I posted it here.

goodshow on August 28, 2015 at 11:23 am

Query to cultman (Feb 19, 2015) did it ever happen- a 50th screening of The Sound of Music at the Dominion?

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…

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