STUDENT BLOGS: Theatre in London: Sites, Sounds, and Situations
There Are No Clowns at the Piccadilly Circus
by Zack Lynch
Unfortunately, the word "circus" does not define itself in a similar way as an American audience would recognize it. There are no clowns, no tight-rope walkers and certainly, no cotton candy. Instead, where you would expect to fine three rings, you instead find yourself in downsized version of New York's Times Square.
Piccadilly Circus is in fact the equivalent to the Big Apple's bustling center of tourism, but it is certainly less lit and ultimately a lot more compact. This was the subject of our theater history walk today, Piccadilly and its surrounding areas.
Like most of London, this area is mostly known for the theatrical inhabitants who lived around the area. Sure there was the Criterion Theatre, a theatre which is completely housed underground, and there is also the famous site of the long, lost St. James Theatre. This theatre has a particularly interesting story, in which Vivian Leigh (she leased the theater along with her husband, Sir Laurence Olivier) staged protests and burst into the Houses of Parliament during a session to stand up against its demolishment. Unfortunately, she lost her battle... but the Oliviers have a lovely memorial on a concrete wall where the theater once stood. If only she had stormed in wearing a gigantic green curtain-stitched hoop skirt — that would have solved the problem completely, right Scarlet?
Other famous inhabitants of the Piccadilly Circus area included the infamous Nell Gwynn, famous not only for being one of the first women to perform onstage, but also as a mistress of King Charles II. We also took a gander at the residence of Sir Henry Irving, one of the greatest English actors to perform in London. He is immortalized just outside of Trafalger Square in statue form, as well as a dedication to the actor on his former home in Piccadilly. We also visited one of the most famous addresses in theatrical, fictional playtexts — B4 at the Albany — home of Mr. Ernest Worthing in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
We capped the walking tour off with two of London's most prestigious theaters, the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Her Majestry's Theater. The latter is currently showing The Phantom of the Opera, and it seems like it's never going to leave!