The London Coliseum (also known as the Coliseum Theatre) is a theatre in St Martin's Lane, Westminster, built as one of London's largest and most luxurious "family" variety theatres.
Opened on 24 December 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties, it was designed by the theatrical architect Frank Matcham for the impresario Oswald Stoll. Their ambition was to build the largest and finest music hall, described as the "people's palace of entertainment" of its age.
The London Coliseum was built by the theatrical architect Frank Matcham who intended it to be one of London's largest and most luxurious "family" variety theatres. Construction began in 1903 and the venue opened on 24 December the following year as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties. It is located in St Martin's Lane, London.
Matcham built the theatre for the theatrical impresario Sir Oswald Stoll and had the ambition of it being the largest and finest "People’s palace of entertainment" of the age.
Matcham wanted a Theatre of Variety – not a music hall but equally not highbrow entertainment. The resulting programme was a mix of music hall and variety theatre, with one act - a full scale revolving chariot race - requiring the stage to revolve. The theatre's original slogan was PRO BONO PUBLICO (For the public good). It was opened in 1904 and the inaugural performance was a variety bill on 24 December that year.
English Heritage, in its description of the theatre when it was given listed status in 1960 notes that it is "exuberant Free Baroque ambitious design, the Edwardian "Theatre de Luxe of London" with richly decorated interiors and a vast and grandiose auditorium." The description continues: "Lavish foyer and circulation areas with marble facings, culminating in vast 3-tier auditorium with wealth of eclectic classical detail of Byzantine opulence, some motifs such as the squat columns dividing the lowest tier of slip boxes, backing the stalls, almost Sullivanesque; pairs of 2-tiered bow fronted boxes with domed canopies at gallery level and semi-domed, Ionic-columned pairs of 2 tiered orchestra boxes, contained in arched and pedimented frames surmounted by sculptural groups with lion-drawn chariots. Great, semi-circular, blocked architrave proscenium arch with cartouche- trophy keystone."
The inaugural performance was a variety bill on 24 December 1904, but it "was a total failure and closed down completely only two years after opening in 1906 and remained closed until December of 1907 when it was reopened and at last became successful." In 1908, the London Coliseum was host to a cricket match between Middlesex and Surrey. In 1911, dramatist W. S. Gilbert produced his last play here, The Hooligan.
The theatre changed its name from the London Coliseum to the Coliseum Theatre between 1931 and 1968 when a run of 651 performances of the musical comedy White Horse Inn began on 8 April 1931. Additionally, Arthur Lewis notes that:
Pantomimes began in 1936 with Cinderella and continued regularly until 1946. In 1947 the musical Annie Get Your Gun was staged at the Coliseum and had a staggeringly successful run for the time, of 1,304 performances and three continuous years which was the longest run in theatrical history. There then followed a long run of major American hits beginning with Kiss Me, Kate in 1951, Guys And Dolls in 1953, Pajama Game in 1955, and Damn Yankees in 1957. But this exceptional period did at last come to an end in 1957 when the production of The Bells Are Ringing failed to enthrall anyone.
The Coliseum reverted to the original name when the Sadler's Wells Opera Company moved there in 1968 and, in 1974, the Company changed its name to become the English National Opera; it bought the freehold of the building for £12.8 million in 1992. The Coliseum hosted both the 2004 and 2006 Royal Variety Performances and is also the London base for performances by English National Ballet, which perform regular seasons throughout the year when not on tour.
The Who performed there and recorded their concert, on 14 December 1969.