A Brief HistoryOn June 1st 1999, the 20th Century Theatre entered a new era of its history as a venue for art and photography exhibitions, private receptions, product and book launches, fashion shows, fashion sample sales, fairs, and most importantly, a restored and liberated landmark. Once one of London's "ghost" theatres, it was saved from obscurity by the owner, Mr. W. Jones, in the1970's, who prevailed on the Secretary of Environment to take action. As a result the theatre is now a Grade II, listed, English Heritage building.
The new venture is wholly in keeping with the varied history of the 20th Century Theatre for the last 150 years. Originally one of London's five patent theatres it became a penny-picture house, a professional theatre named the Bijou, a music hall, a repertory company called the Century Theatre and a theatre for amateur groups, namely the dramatic societies of Harrods, D. H. Evans and the BBC. At one point, from 1925 - 29, the Century Theatre rivaled the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith when it became headquarters for the Lena Ashwell Players, initiating a movement of quality plays in the Borough of Kensington & Chelsea for the first time. A rare survivor of the rectangular hall type theatre, with a gallery across one end, the theatre measures 60 x 30 feet with a 30 square foot stage and a skylight, which runs the length of the theatre. Among notables who have graced its stage is Sir Laurence Olivier who made his professional debut here at the age of 17 in 1925. A copy of the telegram sent to him offering his first professional opportunity, can be seen in the Reception room. Many others include Margaret Rutherford, Rex Harrison, Sir Herbert Tree, Marie Lloyd, Sr. Henry Irving and the first ever production of Oscar Wilde's Salome in 1905. Even the boxer, Jem Smith, fought one of his big fights here.
In 1936 it was renamed the 20th Century Theatre and became the headquarters for the Rudolph Steiner organization who introduced Eurhythmy to England on the theatre's stage. In the 1960's it became an antique warehouse and could have faded into obscurity. Instead the 20th ‘Century Theatre begins a new chapter of its' history as a venue for exhibitions and cultural events highlighting the past of Kensington & Chelsea.