Bringing the House Down

Every theatre manager always hopes that any production they put on will be so popular with audiences that it will bring the house down. That’s most certainly the case, but perhaps with one exception. To find out why, we have to go back to London in the eighteen eighties and to the end of Craven Street which runs down from The Strand to near Embankment Tube station.

    Today, we find the Playhouse Theatre located here. At first it seems strange to see such an enterprise pretty much stuck under the overhead train lines leading in and out of Charing Cross Station close by. But, of course, there is a reason for this. And it wasn’t primarily for artistic reasons.

    At the time and now, Charing Cross train station has its platforms situated above the ground where the lines begin to cross the Thames. The reason for this is that Craven Street and Villiers Street, running parallel drop down towards the river. So, when it looked like the rail company which owned the station, might need to expand, a theatre manager by the name of Sefton Parry and with an eye for a financial opportunity bought the small piece of land where the Playhouse is now.

The Playhouse Theatre Today

    He reasoned that more large supports would be needed to hold up the new overhead rail lines and platforms. And that meant the rail company would have to buy the land off him and he would make a good profit. But, if he also had a business on the land, the company would have to pay him much more. And so, he built a theatre.

    Sure enough, within a relatively short time, the rail company approached him and offered to buy the land and compensate him for his lost business. Parry refused and demanded a much higher price which he believed they would have to pay. But he was wrong. Instead, the rail engineers came up with a plan where they could construct the supports around the theatre and allow the trains to pass overhead. Parry had been too greedy and lost out on his plan.

    But things would get a lot worse. In 1905, the theatre was still going and the trains were still passing overhead. One night, a workman accidentally cut-through one of the supports. It was the final straw that broke the camel’s back or in this case, the theatre. Almost half of Charing Cross Station fell down and this included on the theatre. Five people lost their lives and the theatre was destroyed. From this, we can assume there was no audience present, but I don’t know for sure.

Playhouse Theatre Bottom Left and Charing Cross Station Behind

    Even though Parry had built the theatre for the purposes of property development, it had done well artistically over the years. This of course, meant that the rail company had to pay out a great deal of compensation. The Playhouse Theatre was rebuilt and remains open to this day with the trains passing overhead.

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