Designed by the architect Lewin Sharp, the Apollo opened on 21st February 1901 and is Grade II listed. It's considered to be the first new London theatre of the Edwardian age, heralding a bold new age of British drama. Some interior alterations were made in 1932, overseen by the architect Ernest Shaufelberg, designer of The Fortune Theatre.
The landowner Henry Lowenfeld brought in Lewin Sharp to build a theatre grand enough to compete with the successful Lyric Theatre, which had opened across the road in 1888. This was Sharp’s first time designing a theatre and what a marvellous job he did. The theatre’s beautiful French Renaissance-style front meant that it was well received by the public and the press.
The year after the turn of the twentieth century was the start of the Edwardian period – a time when both fashions and expectations where changing fast. So it is interesting to note that while the cheap 'pit seats' located in the rear stalls below the overhang of the dress circle were normally hard bench seats, the new Apollo theatre featured comfy upholstered pit seats designed to tip up, giving ordinary people the same levels of convenience and comfort as the wealthy.
In addition, taking its lead from the European fashion of the time, each level of seating had its own foyer and promenade area so the audience could leave the auditorium quickly and easily between acts to socialise.
The opening caused controversy when it was announced that the first performance, on Thursday 21st February 1901, would be for an invited audience only. The Times newspaper made a fuss about the segregation and boycotted the opening night, attending the night after. They explained that, ”part of the duty of a newspaper in dealing with theatrical entertainments is to record their reception by the public, and this cannot, of course, be done when the ordinary paying public are not admitted."
Some notable productions at the Apollo include the 1908 and 1910 productions of The Follies. The highly regarded wartime drama Seagulls Over Sorrento played there for just over three years from June 1950 to October 1953. Marc Camoletti's famous farce Boeing Boeing opened in 1962 before transferring to the Duchess Theatre. And 2010 saw Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, starring Mark Rylance, playing at the Apollo theatre, to which it returned for another sell-out run in 2011.
The Apollo's ceiling famously collapsed in 2013. But it has been fully restored and looks as luscious as ever.