A theatre has existed on this site at the Haymarket since 1720, the first being the Little Theatre in the Hay, eventually bestowed its royal patent in 1766. The current building was completed in 1820 and the Corinthian-style entrance was designed so that the public could see the theatre from St James’ Square.
The auditorium was rebuilt in 1879, creating the proscenium arch that still exists today. Then, in 1900, the standing pit was taken out to allow for new rows of seating. This caused a small riot, as the public thought it unfit for a theatre not to have a standing pit for the lower-class members of the population.
The premises once again underwent renovations from 1939 to 1941, including the construction of the large bar and foyer area underneath the stalls. Then, in 1994, all the seats in the theatre were updated and the entire upper circle and balcony levels rebuild at a cost of £1.3m.
One of the biggest theatre producers of the 1700s, Henry Fielding, presented productions at the theatre that attacked the royal family and both political parties of the time. This was the spark that created the position of Lord Chamberlain, when the government and monarchy decided that censorship was needed. The Censorship Act was instated in 1737 and was not repealed until 1968.
The most notable productions to call the venue home were the world premier of Oscar Wilde’s plays An Ideal Husband and A Woman Of No Importance. In May 2004, horror struck when during a performance of When Harry Met Sally, the huge central chandelier in the auditorium broke away from its fitting in the ceiling above the heads of the audience in the stalls. Luckily someone had the clever idea to attach safety chains to the hulking great chandelier and this stopped it from crashing down onto the unsuspecting audience below. However, some large pieces of decorative plasterwork did fall and injured a few people.
Today, the venue still houses excellent quality plays and musicals from all around the globe. In 2007, the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company was set up to stage its own productions and has since brought the likes of Waiting for Godot, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, Terrence Rattigan’s Flare Path directed by Trevor Nunn and starring James Purefoy, Sheridan Smith and Sienna Miller and The Lion In Winter starring Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley.