The New Wimbledon Theatre calls itself the home of London pantomime, but it’s much more besides. This premier outer-London venue is unmissable with a changing programme that takes in everything from West End musicals and critically-acclaimed ballet to fringe comedy.
Plus, the Grade II listed Edwardian building is a gem in itself. According to The Times, “For beauty and size Wimbledon Theatre would not disgrace Shaftesbury Avenue.”
You’ll find the New Wimbledon Theatre on Wimbledon’s main drag, The Broadway. It was built by theatre-aficionado J B Mulholland on the site of a large house and its grounds.
It’s opulent design, by Cecil Aubrey Massey and Roy Young, included a 3,000-seater auditorium decorated in both Georgian and Italian Renaissance styles across three levels. (It must have been very crowded, as today the theatre seats 1,500.) It is also believed to have included Turkish baths in its basement.
The Wimbledon Theatre, as it was then, opened on Boxing Day 1910, with the pantomime Jack and Jill – fitting, given its more modern association with this festive artform.
The theatre was popular between the wars, with stars such as Noel Coward and Gracie Fields treading the boards here, before transferring to the West End. Wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill visited to watch his daughter in the play Gaslight in the 1940s, and iconic comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy performed for a week in 1945.
In 1960, the theatre pulled off a major coup – Lionel Bart’s hit musical Oliver! premiered at the theatre, as did Half A Sixpence, starring Tommy Steele, in 1963. In 1975, Marlene Dietrich gave her last ever UK show here.
With its impressive roof dome, the theatre is one of Wimbledon’s main landmarks. On top of the dome is a golden statue of Laetitia, the Roman goddess of gaiety. Her statue was removed in World War II as it was believed to be a useful beacon for German bombers.
Until 2001, the theatre was owned and operated by the Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust, on behalf of the London Borough of Merton. The trust was responsible for a multi-million-pound refurbishment in the late 1990s, which included a new backstage area, orchestra stalls and redecoration – all sympathetic to the theatre’s baroque interior.
Financial difficulties led to temporary closure, but a deal was agreed with the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and the New Wimbledon Theatre reopened in 2004, with choreographer Matthew Bourne’s production of The Nutcracker.
Over the years, the theatre has hosted productions including Footloose, Blood Brothers, Saturday Night Fever and Jesus Christ Superstar. Prince Charles’ 60th birthday party was celebrated at the theatre in 2008 and in 2010 the national tour of Spamalot, a musical based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, launched on its stage.
Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust
Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust is still operating today. Through its youth theatre, the Young Actors Company, the trust offers young people from all backgrounds the chance to learn, achieve and have fun through drama.
It is, however, for its pantos that New Wimbledon Theatre is perhaps best known. News of each year’s headline star is eagerly-awaited – previous years have seen everyone from Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff to Dame Edna Everage and UK comedians Paul Merton and Jo Brand.
Whether you live near Wimbledon or are just visiting, the New Wimbledon Theatre is certainly worth a visit, so check the listings for up-and-coming shows. Booking now for autumn 2019 are the musicals Calendar Girls, Priscilla Queen of The Desert and Annie. Or there’s the popular drama An Inspector Calls and the chance to spend an evening with Bradley Wiggins or Ben Fogle.
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Wimbledon Village’s proximity to the town centre, with attractions like the New Wimbledon Theatre, make it a great place to live. If you’re interested in buying or renting in the area, contact us to find out more about our special range of properties.