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The St. James Theatre Timeline

The St James’s Theatre opened on December 14th 1835 with a performance of the burletta, AGNES SOREL.

In 1846 , an amateur performance of Ben Jonson’s EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR saw Charles Dickens playing Captain Bobadil; a reviewer noted "Mr Dickens Bobadil was the best performance of the night , and a performance of very high merit".

This was followed in December the same year by an appearance of one of the earliest minstrel troupes, THE ETHIOPIAN SERENADERS

In 1850 the great French actress Rachel appeared in a number of plays including PHEDRE and , for the first time in England, ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR.

1875 saw the production of an early piece by Mr (later Sir) Arthur Sullivan entitled THE ZOO.

In 1880, Mr and Mrs Kendal appeared in WILLIAM AND SUSAN, an adaptation by W.G. Wills of Douglas Jerrold’s famous nautical drama, BLACK-EYED SUSAN.

In 1889 the famous Savoyard, Rutland Barrington, took over the maintenance of the theatre from John Hare and the Kendals. Theatergoers could not fail to notice the fact.

His term was not a long one, for in the following year the management was assumed by Lillie Langtry, the famous ‘Jersey Lily’, who made her debut there as Rosalind.

By 1892 George Alexander had taken over and it was his commission which produced Oscar Wilde’s first great success; LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN opened at the St James’s on February 20th 1892.

In the following year, Pinero’s THE SECOND MRS TANQUERAY caused an outrage and was a triumphant success for Mrs Patrick Campbell in the title role.

 

1895 saw the full flowering of Wilde’s genius in his immortal comedy, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.

Historical costume dramas were a popular staple of George Alexander’s reign at the St James’s; IF I WERE KING is a typical example and was later made into a film with Ronald Colman.

Bernard Shaw’s ANDROCLES AND THE LION had its first British Production at the St James’s in September 1913.

J.M.Barrie’s PETER PAN was first produced at the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1904. Over the next 94 years it appeared in many other theatres, including the St James’s in 1920 and the Royal National Theatre in 1998.

In 1929 Alfred Lunt made his first appearance on the London stage with his wife Lynn Fontanne in the Theatre Guild production of CAPRICE

The Group Theatre, New York, came to the St James’s in 1950 with Clifford Odets’ play GOLDEN BOY with Luther Adler as Joe bonaparte

Laurence Olivier took over the management of the theatre in 1950, opening with Christopher Fry’s new play, VENUS OBSERVED

For the Festival of Britain in 1951, Olivier produced Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA and Shaw’s CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, with himself and his wife, Vivien Leigh in the title roles.

In spite of a vigorous campaign conducted by Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, the theatre closed in 1957 with a play called IT’S THE GEOGRAPHY THAT COUNTS. At the final curtain on July 20th, its leading actor, John Gregson stepped forward to say "In this historic, beautiful theatre, the scene of so many great successes, you share the awful distinction of being in at the death. The talk has now become a grim reality. It should never have been allowed to happen. I want you to make a resolution in your hearts that such a thing shall never happen again"