Post Second World War

Mark Fox

By Society of London Theatre & UKT

Alhambra Theatre: The Sphere MagazineSociety of London Theatre & UKT

The second half of the 20th century in the UK saw subsidy entering into the business of theatre with funds distributed by the new Arts Council.  At the same time over a third of the traditional theatre stock was demolished, or became bingo halls, as variety waned in the face of competition from television.

Oklahoma! Poster (1947)Society of London Theatre & UKT

Immediately after the war, audiences looked for feel-good entertainment and received it with major productions of British musicals, such as Bless the Bride, and the ground-breaking American import, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!

Terence Rattigan led the field in straight plays with his emotional dramas.  1952 saw the opening of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap which is still running today at St Martin's Theatre, London.  

The Mousetrap is the longest running show of any kind in the world. The show has now been presented in 27 languages in more than 50 countries. Since it opened on 25th November 1952, over 460 actors and actresses have appeared in the play.  

It is generally agreed that everything changed for theatre in 1956 with the premiere of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger.  

Look Back in Anger ProgrammeSociety of London Theatre & UKT

'Angry Young Men' went on to dominate the drama scene with 'kitchen sink dramas' replacing the traditional drawing room comedy.  

Oh! Calcutta! Leaflet (1970) by The Royalty TheatreSociety of London Theatre & UKT

Censorship was eventually dropped allowing much greater freedom on stage, with an immediate flurry of plays, musicals, and revues containing full-frontal nudity!

LIFE Photo Collection

The 1950s and 60's saw many American musicals with just a few British successes, such as The Boyfriend and Oliver!, crossing the Atlantic in the other direction.  This all changed in the 1980s with the advent of the sung-through British musical...

...including Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, and Boublil and Schönberg's Les Misérables, both produced by Cameron Mackintosh.  They repeated these London successes with simultaneous replica productions all over the world and, at the same time, reinvented the way shows were marketed and merchandised.    

Foyer at Barbican Centre, City of London (2009-10-09) by James O DaviesHistoric England

The new National Theatre took over the Old Vic under Laurence Olivier's leadership, before finally moving into its own building on The South Bank in 1976.  The Royal Shakespeare Company continued operations in Stratford-Upon-Avon, whilst taking over the Aldwych Theatre as a London base.  This was before moving into the purpose-built Barbican Centre as a permanent home (until 2001).

By Leonard MccombeLIFE Photo Collection

David Wood's Whirligig Theatre was the first company to tour and play the West End with quality children's theatre.  This included his own plays, such as The Gingerbread Man, and major adaptations of Roald Dahl novels.

The jukebox musical is also a new phenomenon spearheaded by the success of ABBA's Mamma Mia!

Kids Week: Auditorium by Society of London TheatreSociety of London Theatre & UKT

The 21st Century sees the rise of children's theatre and star casting - find out more here.

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