Fortune Theatre

Russell Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5HH
Fortune Theatre History and Timeline
The Fortune Theatre was built

The Fortune Theatre was built

1922-01-01

Building work for the Fortune Theatre began in 1922 under the management of Laurence Cowan, who commissioned the architect Ernest Schaufelberg. It was named as the Fortune Theatre after Shakespeare's venue which was destroyed in a fire in 1621. It's one of the West End's youngest theatres and the first to be built after World War I. The architecture is simple and clean, built in unusual ferro-concrete with a statue of the Goddess of Fortune gazing down over the entrance like a ship's figure head. The theatre was built on the site of the old Albion Tavern, a pub frequented by Georgian actors. It is close neighbours with the infamous Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Scottish National Church.

The theatre opened with 'Sinners'

The theatre opened with 'Sinners'

1924-11-08

The Fortune Theatre opened in the autumn of 1924 with 'Sinners', a play written by the theatre's owner Laurence Cowan. It allegedly caused a stir with the Scottish National Church next door and only ran for two weeks. The short running time of the first show unfortunately sparked a trend, with unsuccessful shows coming and going from the Fortune Theatre a little too regularly.

Are You a Mason?'

Are You a Mason?'

1925-02-02

Leo Ditrichstein wrote his play 'Are You a Mason?' in 1901, and it was performed on Broadway in the same year by William Collier. It was turned into a popular silent film in 1915 and made into a 'talkie' in 1934.

The venue struggled to bring in an audience

The venue struggled to bring in an audience

1925-01-01

Despite its name, the Fortune Theatre struggled to bring in the audience numbers it needed during its early years. The much larger Theatre Royal Drury Lane was a bigger pull, and it lay just around the corner from the Fortune.

On Approval

On Approval

1927-04-19

On Approval was written by Frederick Lonsdale in 1926 and premiered at the Gaiety Theatre in New York. It moved to the Fortune Theatre in 1927 and ran for over a year.

Tom Walls takes over

Tom Walls takes over

1927-01-01

In 1927 the actor manager Tom Walls took over the management of the Fortune. Walls was an English stage and film actor who moved into theatre management with his business partner, the comedy actor Leslie Henson. Walls is best known for his work on the twelve Aldwych farces in the 1920s and their film adaptations in the 1930s.

The People's Theatre

The People's Theatre

1930-01-01

The theatre manager and drama critic Jack Thomas Grein thought of he People's Theatre in 1930 and co-founded the group with actress Nancy Price. He was inspired by Berlin's Volkstheater, which made theatre about the people for the people. He wanted The People's Theatre group to be based at the Fortune Theatre, and they held their first production 'The Man From Blankleys' there in 1930. Even though they had successful performances the group disbanded in 1931.

The ENSA moves in

The ENSA moves in

1939-01-01

The ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) moved into the Fortune Theatre during World War II to provide entertainment for armed forces personnel. The organisation gave much needed relief to members of the Army, Navy and RAF in locations all around the country and overseas. They even filled London Underground stations during bomb strikes. Despite having many popular entertainers they were stretched to cover the huge areas, and the acronym ENSA was sometimes used as 'every night something awful'. ENSA has since been overtaken by Combined Services Entertainment which still operates for our armed forces today.

Flanders and Swann perform 'At The Drop of a Hat'

Flanders and Swann perform 'At The Drop of a Hat'

1956-11-30

Flanders and Swann were a duo who raised the profile of the comic song during the 1950s and 60s. Flanders penned the words and Swann composed the music, and their work was sung by comic performers such as Joyce Grenfell and Ian Wallace. Their show 'At The Drop of a Hat' transferred to the Fortune Theatre in 1957 and ran for two successful years. Flanders had contracted polio many years before and had to sing the songs in a wheelchair, with Swann sitting behind his piano.

Beyond the Fringe is a huge success

Beyond the Fringe is a huge success

1960-11-30

Beyond the Fringe was the brainchild of Robert Ponsonby, the artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival. He wanted to bring together the best comedy sketches from the Cambridge Footlights and the Oxford Revue, and a cast was formed with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. The show ran in Edinburgh to mixed reviews but became hugely successful on its transfer to the Fortune Theatre. The sketches satirised authority figures in a surrealist style, and many claim that it inspired Monty Python and 'That Was the Week That Was'. The show sparked the rise of Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, who had been ready to begin careers in medicine and academia. The show moved from the Fortune Theatre to tour the US before a different cast version came to London until 1966. A live recording was also released.

Murder at the Vicarage' by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage' by Agatha Christie

1976-07-05

Murder at the Vicarage' is the Fortune Theatre's second longest running show after 'The Woman in Black'. It transferred from the Savoy Theatre after its year long occupancy and remained at the Fortune for 1373 performances.

The Woman in Black' begins it's legendary run

The Woman in Black' begins it's legendary run

1989-06-07

The Woman in Black' is one of the West End's biggest success stories and has played at the Fortune Theatre for well over 20 years. In 1989 the show had no fewer than four transfers, from the Lyric Hammersmith to the Novello Theatre to the Playhouse Theatre and (finally) to the Fortune Theatre. It prides itself on being 'the most terrifying live experience in the world', and judging by the screams of the audience it seems to be living up to its claim. Given the sporadic success of the Fortune's previous shows it's wonderful to see a performance that has flourished there.

The Woman in Black celebrates 25 years

The Woman in Black celebrates 25 years

2015-06-07

London's most terrifying show celebrates 25 years of haunting the West End's Fortune Theatre. Launching a new UK tour, The Woman in Black has now been at the Fortune Theatre for an impressive 25 years. Have you seen it?

Past Shows at Fortune Theatre