The Lyceum Theatre in London is a long and complex tale of success, downfall and rebirth. It all started in 1772 when the Society of Arts founded a room for exhibitions and concerts near the site of the current building. Since this beginning the Lyceum has displayed a chameleon tendency, adapting to changing fashions and needs admirably.
1809 saw a defining moment for the Lyceum Theatre. A fire burnt down the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Its company moved to the Lyceum, enabling the theatre to obtain a proper licence from the Lord Chamberlain for the presentation of plays. Theatrical brilliance began. In 1815 the Lyceum was completely rebuilt by the design of Samuel Beazley. Misfortune struck and in 1830 the Lyceum and a large section of Exeter Street burnt down. Another version of the Theatre was built and re-opened in 1834. The Lyceum became the first theatre in England to incorporate a balcony which projected over the circle.
It was in this period during the 1880’s that the theatre ghost made its first appearance. A couple who were sitting in a box swore that they had looked down on a woman in the stalls and saw a severed head in her lap. The man who had seen the head was an art dealer by profession and was called upon several years later to value some paintings in Yorkshire. One of the paintings was of a man whose appearance identically matched that of the severed head seen some years previous. The owner of the painting claimed that the portrait was that of an ancestor who had been beheaded in the early days of the Commonwealth and had once owned the land on which the present Lyceum stands!
That building lasted only seventy years. During this time Henry Irving, an acclaimed actor, took over and turned the venue into the most brilliant playhouse in London. However, fire struck again and Irving’s assets were destroyed. A new purchaser couldn’t be found and it was decided to demolish the building and once again to re-build. Irving died in 1905 and never entered the new building, which was re-opened in 1907. At last this brings us to the current building but not to its current state. Before its doors closed in 1984, the theatre saw many performances and performers. The seventies saw appearances from famous pop idols such as Bob Marley and Iggy Pop.
Despite numerous challenges the Lyceum Theatre in London has risen once again. In 1996, after ten years of vacancy and decline, the Lyceum saw its sixth reincarnation. It was Apollo Leisure who stepped in and secured permission to return the theatre to its former glory. Investing over £14 million, the building was refurbished and re-opened by HRH Prince Charles on 31st October 1996, with ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Business continues to flourish as The Lyceum Theatre, now owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group, stages Disney’s production ‘The Lion King’. On average over 760,000 patrons enjoy the Lyceum’s hospitality every year.