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Novello Theatre

  • Theatre
  • Aldwych
© Michelle GrantNovello Theatre

Time Out says

This storied West End venue is home to long-running jukebox musical fave 'Mamma Mia'

Originally named the Waldorf and later the Strand, the Novello has been so-called since its major refurbishment under Delfont Mackintosh in 2005. In its current incarnation, it plays host of thousands of Abba fans each week, but it's no stranger to straight drama either: it has hosted seasons by the RSC as well as a visit from Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed perennial production of ‘An Inspector Calls’. The overhaul marked the theatre’s centenary year and its new name commemorated the actor, writer and composer Ivor Novello, who lived in a flat above it for 30 years.

Designed by WGR Sprague – also the architect behind the Aldwych – it was at first owned by the American Schubert brothers and launched with an operatic season. During the First World War, ownership passed to husband-and-wife team Julia Neilson and Fred Terry, brother of the famous actor Ellen; bombing caused serious damage in 1915. Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Anna Christie’ received its British premiere at the theatre in 1923; the first of the playwright’s works to be seen in the West End, it caused a sensation. Fred Astaire, Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud all appeared there.

The Second World War brought more bomb damage but, under Donald Wolfitt, the company continued to perform. ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ broke box-office records from 1942 to 1946. Post-war, the Strand saw more notable premieres, among them the first UK production of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’, with Frankie Howerd; William Golding’s first stage play; and Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’.

Today, the post-refurb Novello has 1,105 seats in a luxurious interior that features curved balconies, and all the gilt and mirrors you could wish for, and a stupendously grand round auditorium ceiling with a chandelier that sparkles over the heads of the dancing audiences that flock there each week. 


Rail/Tube: Charing Cross; Tube: Covent Garden/Holborn
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What’s on

Mamma Mia!

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Musicals

Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its pl

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