Essential Architecture-  London

The London Coliseum (English National Opera)


Frank Matcham


St. Martin's Lane City Westminster, London








  Artwork by Simon Fieldhouse. (Copyright Simon Fieldhouse)
The Coliseum Theatre (also known as the London Coliseum) is on St. Martin's Lane, in the City of Westminster. It is one of London's largest and best equipped theatres and opened in 1904, designed by theatrical architect Frank Matcham (designer of the London Palladium), for impresario Oswald Stoll. Their ambition was to build the largest and finest 'People's palace of entertainment' of its age.

The inaugural performance was a variety bill on 24th December 1904. In 1911, dramatist W. S. Gilbert produced his last play here, The Hooligan.

The theatre changed its name from the London Coliseum to the Coliseum Theatre between 1931 and 1968 when 651 performances of the musical comedy White Horse Inn started on April 8, 1931). It reverted to the original name when the Sadler's Wells Opera Company (having moved from Sadler's Wells Theatre) moved to the Coliseum in 1968. The Company changed its name to the English National Opera in 1974 and bought the freehold of the building for £12.8m.

It underwent extensive renovations between 2000 and 2004 and has the widest proscenium arch in London as well as being one of the earliest to have electric lighting. It was built with a revolving stage although this was rarely used. The theatre retains many of its original features and was Grade II* listed by English Heritage in September 1960[2]. The design team for the refurbishment was RHWL (architects), Arup Acoustics(acousticians) and Arup (building engineers).

The theatre hosted both the 2004 and 2006 Royal Variety Performances, in the presence of HRH the Prince of Wales.

As a 14th birthday treat, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was taken by her parents to a West End show, to see Sir Charles Hawtrey at the London Coliseum (on August 4, 1914). On the same day her future father-in-law, King George V, summoned the Privy Council and declared war on Germany. This event is commemorated in a poem by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, celebrating her 100th birthday in 2000.


English National Opera site