10 Beguiling Images Of London's Iconic Theatres... Totally Empty

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 23 months ago

Last Updated 06 June 2022

10 Beguiling Images Of London's Iconic Theatres... Totally Empty

An intimate glimpse behind the curtains of London’s iconic theatres, during their downtime — thanks to the photography of Derry Moore and the narrative of thespian Simon Callow.

Wilton’s Music Hall © Derry Moore. For anyone involved in the theatre in any way – actors, directors, composers, designers, audiences – walking into Wilton’s is an emotional business. It catches at the throat; it gets the pulse racing. In ways hard at first to define, it seems to embody the particular excitement of theatre.
Seating at Apollo Shaftesbury © Derry Moore. The Apollo could justly claim to be the first London theatre to be built in the 20th century, and – since Queen Victoria had just died – it was also the first Edwardian theatre, which it certainly feels like. Nothing Victorian about the Apollo; far too much fun.
Rotunda ceiling at Theatre Royal Drury Lane © Derry Moore. Stretching all the way back to Drury Lane, the Theatre Royal is a great warehouse of a building, a warren of extensive paint shops and prop docks and under-stage machinery, a superb and enormous auditorium, and a front of house of unparalleled spaciousness and splendour.
The stall seats at Royal Court Theatre © Derry Moore. The auditorium, rendered in battleship hues and textures, was denuded of any vestige of the decorative; the seats were made marginally less comfortable (quite an achievement). But these modifications gave the experience of seeing a play there even more edge than before.
View to the stage at the National Theatre © Derry Moore. The feeling of the National’s workforce towards the building was not loving: it was hard to enjoy the cell-like dressing rooms, which looked out on to a well that resembled nothing so much as a prison yard. But from the very beginning the public loved it, and loves it still. This enthusiasm was perhaps less aesthetic than practical: there was an underground car park, the foyers were spacious, the lavatories plentiful and salubrious, the bars numerous, the seats comfortable and easy of access.
Stairway at the Criterion © Derry Moore. That the Criterion opened at all is something of a miracle. The Metropolitan Board of Works was anxious about the danger of toxic fumes, the theatre being entirely subterranean and lit by gas. Eventually, a year and two separate votes by the board later, it received its licence: its debut in March 1874 was packed to the rafters, and there was a large and volatile crowd in the streets.
Seating at Apollo Victoria © Derry Moore. Once you pass through the magnificent foyer, the auditorium, designed by William Edward Trent, plunges you into a subaquatic wonderland in art deco style – a nod, it appears, to the managing director’s passion for messing about in boats. Lit in pale blues and greens and adorned with naughty mermaids, it was as sumptuous and sexy as any of the great Los Angeles movie palaces.
Backstage at the Duke of York Theatre © Derry Moore. The stage remains exactly as it was: small. How on earth, on 27 December 1904, the original director and designer of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan managed to cram the Darlings’ house, the Neverland, the pirate ship, and the crocodile-infested lagoon onto that little stage is a bafflement, to say nothing of the 20 or so named characters – Darlings, dogs, pirates, Lost Boys – plus sundry unnamed auxiliary ‘redskins’, pirates, mermaids, a pack of wolves and an ostrich.
Pillars at the Palladium © Derry Moore. Matcham, the theatre’s architect, also added statues representing Art, Science and Literature, which dignitaries he clearly felt were big fans of music hall, for they are invariably present in his theatres; masks of comedy and tragedy feature too, though the latter has been rather underused over the theatre’s hundred-year existence.
The curtain at the Playhouse Theatre © Derry Moore. The auditorium has an unexpectedly open feeling to it which some commentators have felt gives it an airy delicateness. Certainly it has a unique character, almost like a set itself; and under the stage, in working condition but never used, is some remarkable stage machinery.

London's Great Theatres, published by Prestel