The “Dames” of Streatham Hill Theatre
By: Mark Bery (with acknowledgements: John Cresswell)
The magnificent Streatham Hill Theatre opened on 20th November 1929 with the slogan, “West End shows at Provincial prices”, and had a capacity of 2,523, more than the Coliseum, Covent Garden and Drury Lane. The Streatham Hill Theatre and the affiliated Golders Green Hippodrome became main theatre venues in London.
During 30 years, the theatre staged 1,300 shows including plays, musicals, opera, ballet, variety and pantomime with some of the greatest performers of the day including an impressive list of Dames - as well as pantomime dames.
Dame Edith Evans (1888-1976) was a member of the Streatham Shakespeare Players. She played Viola in 1910 in Twelfth Night and in 1912, Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. William Poel discovered her in role as Viola at the Streatham Town Hall and launched her career. She appeared in Oscar Wilde’s, The Importance of Ernest at the Streatham Hill Theatre in October 1939, playing Lady Bracknell and is best known for the interchange with Jack when she exclaims “a Handbag?”. The star-studded cast included Sir John Gielgud, Jack Hawkins and two other Dames, Margaret Rutherford and Peggy Ashcroft.
Dame Margaret Rutherford (1882-1972) was born within the Historic Parish of Streatham in Dornton Road Balham. A talented pianist as well as a fine actress, she shot to fame in the film adaptation of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. She will be remembered to many as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. She appeared at the Streatham Hill Theatre in 1939 in Spring Meeting as Bijou Furze, Little ladyship, Goodness How Sad and While Parents Sleep
Dame Peggy Ashcroft (1907- 1991) began her career in 1930 in Jew Suss at the Streatham Hill Theatre with the part of Naomi who kills herself rather than surrender to her father’s ducal patron. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a Passage to India (1984)
Dame Anna Neagle (1904-1986) starred in the West End musical, Stand Up and Sing with Jack Buchanan in 1931, and in May 1932 the show was performed at the Streatham Hill Theatre.
Dame Flora Robson (1902-1984) was in a 16-week tour of No Escape, which was performed at the Streatham Theatre in October 1954
Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976) appeared at the Streatham Hill Theatre as Desdemona in Othello in 1930. The cast included Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Ralph Richardson and Alastair Sim in his first stage show. Paul Robeson played the title role and was the first black actor to play the part on the London stage
Beacon Bingo, leaseholders of the building, have asked Lambeth Council to review the Asset of Community Value (ACV) status of the theatre. The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre are determined to demonstrate to the Council that the community wants them to protect with the aim of bringing it back to life and into use once more with a flashmob photo shoot at 3pm on 25th November, please go and join in the flashmob photo shoot outside the theatre.
110 Streatham Hill
SW2 4RD streathamhilltheatre.org