Scala Theatre

58 Charlotte Street,
London, W1T 2AW

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Scala Theatre, Charlotte Street, London in 1912

Located slightly away from London’s traditional ‘Theatreland’ in the West End, the Scala Theatre was north of Oxford Street, close to Goodge Street tube station at the corner of Tottenham Street & Charlotte Street, in an area known as Fitzrovia.

Originally on the site was a concert hall built in 1772 and known as the ‘New Rooms in Tottenham Street’. It was enlarged in 1780 and re-named Kings Concert Rooms. It was converted into the Tottenham Theatre in 1810, and had several names over the years; Regency Theatre, West London Theatre, Queen’s Theatre, Fitzroy Theatre, and was refurbished in 1865 as the Prince of Wales Theatre. Closed in 1885, it was taken over by the Salvation Army and used as a hostel until 1903 when it was demolished. Only a portico entrance on Tottenham Street was retained and became the stage door entrance to the new building.

A new theatre designed by noted theatre architect Frank T. Verity was built on an extended site, and the Scala Theatre was opened by Lady Bancroft on 19th December 1904. W.S. Gilbert of the famed Gilbert & Sulivan partnership was in attendance. However, for reasons unknown, it did not open to the public until 23rd September 1905, when "The Conqueror" by R.E. Fyffe was the first production staged.

The decoration inside the auditorium was described as ‘A superimposing of the Doric and Ionic orders, after the manner of Paladio. It is carried out in Pavonazza marble and stone composition resembling caryletti stone with wrought iron and metal embellishments’. Seating in the auditorium was provided for 209 in the orchestra stalls, 218 in the dress circle, 198 in the upper circle and 209 in the gallery. There were two large boxes at dress circle level on each side of the theatre. The proscenium was 30 feet wide and the stage was 40 feet deep. An unusual feature of the Scala Theatre was that access to the dress circle was via two staircases which were accessed from the auditorium in the front side stalls and went underneath the boxes.

Possibly due to its ‘out of the West End’ location, the Scala Theatre was never a great success, although it did have its moments. From 11th April 1911, Charles Urban, one of the pioneers of British cinema, took over the Scala Theatre as a full time cinema to screen his Kinemacolor films, where the public saw the earliest colour films. In September 1915, D.W. Griffith’s "Birth of a Nation" had its UK premiere here. Plays, mostly unsuccessful, returned, and a renamed New Scala Theatre returned to cinema use on 12th October 1921. In 1922, D.W. Griffiths "Orphans of the Storm", starring Lillian Gish & Dorothy Gish was screened, and that was followed by "White Rose".

A new owner A.E. Abrahams took control of the New Scala Theatre in 1925, and the theatre was mainly used for amateur stage productions, with a professional show being staged at Christmas. A film season began on 5th August 1929. From the mid-1930’s Ralph Reader’s "Gang Show" performed by boy scouts, began its annual visit to the theatre. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company played a seven weeks season in May/June 1938.

After the outbreak of World War II, the theatre reverted back to its Scala Theatre name and some professional theatre productions were staged including Eileen Herlie in a revival of "Peg of My Heart" in 1943. Later that year, the Scala Theatre became the home to the United States Army Theatre Unit. At Christmas 1943 an all star production of "Alice in Wonderland" was staged. In 1944, Donald Wolfitt acted in a season of plays and the following year, the Scala Theatre began its most successful and best remembered association with its staging of a professional production of "Peter Pan" at Chrismastime every year until the theatre closed, with amateur productions the staged during the remainder of the year.

On 5th January 1951, the Scala Theatre was host to a ‘Tribute to Humphrey Jennings’, the well respected documentary filmmaker, and a season of Russian films were screened in the late-1950’s.

The Scala Theatre was used as a location by British film director Alfred Hitchcock for his 1950 film "Stage Fright" starring Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich. There are many scenes throughout the film where the auditorium, stage and back stage can be seen. The Scala Theatre was also a location for a concert scene in The Beatles film “A Hard Days Night” in March 1964. The Scala Theatre was closed and demolished in 1969 following a fire.

A new office block named Scala House was built on the site, which had a 350 seat basement space that was occupied by the independent Other Cinema, screening independent and underground movies. It later became the Scala Cinema, and was closed in the 1980’s when Channel 4 Television took over the entire building.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 29, 2009 at 11:43 am

History, more details photographs and memorabilia on the Scala Theatre here:

woody on July 29, 2009 at 6:56 pm

a thin sliver of the rear red brick wall of the theatre remains between the neighbouring old houses and the 70’s office building

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Here is an article about the Scala Theatre from the April, 1912, issue of The Cinema News and Property Gazette, published during the period when the theater was presenting Charles Urban’s Kinemacolor films.

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