Apollo Victoria Theatre

17 Wilton Road,
London, SW1V 1LL

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Apollo Victoria Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as the New Victoria Theatre on 15th October 1930 with George Arlis in “Old English”, plus a stage show “Hoop-La” and Reginald Foort opened the Compton 3Manual/15Rank theatre organ. It was designed for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres(PCT) by William Edward Trent and Ernest Wamsley Lewis. Built on a rectangular site it has two almost identical facades one to Vauxhall Bridge Road and the other on Wilton Road -the site measured 167 feet by 100 feet.

The two facades are severe in appearance with the main feature being horizontal banding (containing four rows of four rectangular steel framed windows at the stage end) which contrasts sharply by the vertical banding over the dual entrances. On the Wilton Road entrance two bas-relief panels depicting an audience watching a film were the work of Newbury Abbot Trent who was also responsible for some of the interior sculptures.

The theatre is ingeniously planned with the stalls below ground level and the main foyer inserted into the balcony void area – the front circle emergency exits are at street level, giving some idea of the amount of excavation that had to be undertaken.

The auditorium was designed as a ‘mermaid’s palace’. With huge flowers which branch up and lights with the appearance of glass stalactites hanging down from the ceiling (long removed). The proscenium was a mass of nine slender silver columns on either side above which were dummy organ pipes, again in silver giving the impression of a waterfall. Elsewhere decorative touches of fish, shells and waves can be found.

Seating capacity was originally for 2,860, with 1,076 in the balcony. The stage – designed for cine-variety so small by modern standards – measures 22.56 metres by 7.32 metres and their 10 dressing rooms plus 2 suites.

The New Victoria Theatre was closed briefly during the war from September 1940 to May 1941 but sustained no serious damage. By this time it was operated the by Gaumont British Theatres chain.

Eventually becoming part of the Rank Organisation, film entertainment ended here on 1st November 1975 with the double bill:Peter Cushing in “Legend of the Werewolf” and Adrienne Corri in “Vampire Circus”.

Since when it has become a live entertainment venue – firstly mainly concerts staring the likes of Shirley Bassey, Dean Martin, and Liza Minnelli, then large scale West End musicals – a revival of “The Sound of Music”, and to-date, the longest run in the theatre was “Starlight Express” which opened here in 1984 and finally closed at the beginning of 2002. After this long run, the theatre closed for many months to allow for a major refurbishment. It became the home of the Bollywood spectacular “Bombay Dreams” followed by “Saturday Night Fever” and “Wicked”, and currently seats 1,934.

The Apollo Victoria is one of the UK’s best preserved 1930’s ‘super cinemas’ and its unique design and excellent condition fully justify its Grade II* Listed building status which was bestowed by English Heritage in 1972.

Contributed by Ian Grundy

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on January 27, 2006 at 4:16 pm

A night view of the Wiltern Road entrance as “Starlight Express” nears the buffers on its 20 years run at the Apollo Victoria:
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greensleeves on February 24, 2006 at 5:34 pm

What a fabulous cinema this was! You really did feel that you had entered an underwater cavern especially with the blue/green lighting effects. I visited many times in the early 1970’s when it was showing double bills of mainly horror films. A couple I remember being ‘What’s The Matter With Helen?’(Debbie Reynolds & Shelly Winters) and ‘Blood and Lace’ (Gloria Grahame). The place was always virtually empty but how incredible it was just to sit in such splendour! There were many cinemas in the Victoria area even in the 70’s – The Metropole, The Classic, The Biograph, The News Theatre, now I guess this is the only survivor.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on August 23, 2006 at 4:11 pm

Two vintage photographs oh the New Victoria Theatre:
The Wilton Road entrance in September 1949 playing the Gaumont release:
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The Vauxhall Bridge Road entrance seen undergoing restoration in the same week;September 1949:
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CSWalczak on December 17, 2006 at 2:52 am

This theatre makes an unusual cameo appearance of sorts in “The Return of the Pink Panther” by clearly serving as the inspiration for the theatre setting for the opening animated credits sequence.

HowardBHaas on December 30, 2007 at 3:23 pm

2005 auditorium photos, 18th & 19th photos here:
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abcman on November 3, 2008 at 1:45 pm

In 1982 met the late Australian soprano June Bronhill in her dressing room after a performance of ‘The Sound Of Music’ (The Petula Clark production). A wonderful experience. Recently visited this fabulous building to see ‘Wicked’. Always great to sit in this wonderful atmospheric auditorium.

markp on December 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Is this the theatre that was on the news last night about the ceiling falling onto patrons during a performance?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm

markp: No, this is the Apollo Victoria Theatre, located in the Victoria area of central London.

The Apollo Theatre, on Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End district was the theatre in the news last night which had a large section of its main auditorium ceiling collapse into the orchestra level, which also caused damage to the front of the dress circle. Luckily no one was killed although there were seven admitted to hospital with serious (though not life threatening injuries) and 79 others were injured. The Apollo Theatre, was built & opened in 1901 and has seating for 771 in orchestra, dress circle, balcony and upper circle levels. The upper circle is the steepest in London’s West End. It is a Grade II Listed building has always been a playhouse/live theatre, so is not eligible for inclusion on Cinema Treasures.

The accident happened around 40 minutes into a performance of the National Theatre’s hit production of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” which had been playing to sell out capacity audiences since opening in March 2013. The cause of the ceiling fall is being investigated, and one possible cause is that London suffered a violent thunderstorm with 15 lightning strikes in one hour and 8mm of rain and hailstones fell! All performances at the theatre have been cancelled until at least 4th January, 2014.

Roger04 on August 8, 2017 at 8:07 pm

I Managed the New Victoria together with the Metropole across the road in Victoria Street 71 to early 74 including in addition to the regular one nighters and dance seasons the last London Run of the Black and White Minstrels for which the Theatre was redecorated, I hesitate to say lavishly, in a colour scheme similar to that on opening. I also introduced in this time the closure of the FOH doors except for exit only on the Vauxhall Bridge Road side of the building having got fed up with the public using the foyer as a short cut to and from the station particularly at afternoon rush hour. It is nice to see on a recent visit that this is now a firmly established practice. The New Victoria is a great theatre, wonderful auditorium and not known to the public, spacious back stage production and dressing space. There is a complete set of properly lite architects photographs taken at the time of the theatre opening held by and available for view, at the National Photo Archive in Saville Row.

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