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Savoy Theatre history

Designed by architect Frank A. Tugwell and then later Sir William Whitfield, the Savoy is a Grade II listed building. The first theatre on the site, also called The Savoy Theatre, was designed by C. J. Phipps and opened on 10 October 1881. The main entrance was on to The Embankment looking towards the River Thames. The adjacent Savoy Hotel was built in 1889. Both the theatre and hotel were financed by Richard D'Oyly Carte from the profits of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas. In 1902, the theatre’s entrance was moved to its current position on Savoy Court, off the Strand.

Interestingly Savoy Court, which forms the forecourt to both the hotel and theatre, is the only road in Britain where traffic is required by law to drive on the right hand side. This was originally arranged as a special privilege by Parliament so visitors to the Savoy Theatre could walk out of their carriage straight into the theatre. It was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, a distinct advantage over gas lighting's oxygen-burning, heat-producing danger.

The theatre closed on 3rd June 1929 so it could be completely rebuilt to designs by Frank A. Tugwell. The only part of the old theatre to remain were the main walls and the interior design was the work of Basil Ionides. The theatre then reopened on 21st October 1929. In the following years the venue was associated with Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In actual fact, most of the G&S canon has been presented on this stage at one point or another.

Later successes included Agatha Christie's The Spiders Web with Margaret Lockwood in 1954, which enjoyed a run of over two years. More recent long-runners have included Alibi For A Judge in 1965 and two comedies, The Secretary Bird in 1968 and Lloyd George Knew My Father in 1972, both by William Douglas Home. In 1982, the Michael Frayn farce Noises Off started a run of over four years. An award-winning revival of the musical She Loves Me opened on 12th July 1994 and ran until 1 July 1995.

Disaster struck the theatre in the early hours of Monday 12th February 1990 when a fire broke out in the auditorium, spreading rapidly with flames fifty feet high. Guests where evacuated from the Savoy Hotel and the fire was fortunately contained within the theatre. The architect Sir William Whitfield oversaw the restoration back to its former Art Deco glory and the venue reopened on 19th July 1993.

Recent notable productions at the theatre include the 2006 version of Porgy and Bess, Fiddler on the Roof in 2007 and Legally Blonde, which ran from 2010 to 2012. Rufus Norris' re-imagined version of Cabaret, starring Will Young, was revived at the Savoy Theatre in 2012. In February 2013, the Beatles’ musical tribute Let It Be transferred to the Savoy from the Prince of Wales.