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Harry Potter fans make a beeline for this castle-like West End theatre, home to 'Cursed Child'
With its imposing, turretted facade, The Palace Theatre looks like something out of 'Harry Potter' - which is lucky, because thousands of JK Rowling fans darken its doors each day, as the boy wizard's home on the West End. But long before 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' was even dreamt of, this 1400-seater red-brick building was built with a very different purpose in mind. Designed by Thomas Collcuttt, it was commissioned by Richard D’Oyly Carte, who hoped it would become the home of English opera, and opened in 1891. But D’Oyly Carte lacked the managerial nous or artistic leadership to make the project successful and he was forced to sell the same year. The theatre reopened as the Palace of Varieties, finally becoming known as the Palace in 1911.
Musical theatre has traditionally been the venue’s stock in trade. Fred Astaire’s last stage show, ‘The Gay Divorce’, played here in the 1930s and, more recently, the theatre has hosted blockbuster productions of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and, most significantly, the West End transfer of the RSC’s moneyspinner ‘Les Miserables’, which ran at the Palace for 18 years before decamping to the Queen’s up the road. Following its departure, the theatre underwent some interior refurbishment; Derren Brown played a season, before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Wilkie Collins-inspired show ‘The Woman in White’ moved in and promptly flopped. Comedy was back on the menu thereafter, with a run for the Monty Python musical ‘Spamalot’ followed by the fabulous drag queens of ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’. Then 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' moved in - for weeks before the show's opening, fans waited outside the theatre, desperate for tickets for any clues as to what was in store. And although the production scrapped the much-rumoured live owls, it offers enough realistic thrills to delight Potter fans, who turn up at the venue nightly in full wizarding garb.
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