The London Casino
The Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street, named after Edward Prince of Wales, opened on the 3rd April 1930 on the site of a drapers business called The Emporium. The area was soon to be known as London’s Quarter Latin now simply Soho and the venue later became The London Casino. The exterior was in the style of an Italian Palace, and the foyer pure art deco. The auditorium was on two levels (stalls and dress circle) and seated 1,650. From its inception the shows staged (Rio Rita, Nippy, Fanfare) did not do well and even an appearance of the famous Parisian music hall star Josephine Baker failed to click. After the pantomime Aladdin the theatre was forced to close in January 1935.
The business consortium that run the French Casino in New York saw an opportunity to open a London branch and bought the venue for £25,000 and immediately began renovations to turn the venue into a magnificent state of the art Restaurant-cabaret. The stage was converted into a semi circular revolving floor that could be moved forward and also used for dancing and the understage converted to kitchens. The auditorium was changed considerably: part of the stalls was removed to make way for the dance floor and diners could sit at tables placed in the pit space or arranged in tiers along the whole width of the dress circle from which there was a staircase on either side to the dance floor.
The building re-opened on the 2nd of April 1936 as The London Casino with the extravagant revue Folie Parisiennes staged by Clifford Fischer that had already scored a big success in New York and Miami the previous year. The theatre was opened from 6.30pm -2am and the revue was given twice nightly. Entry was 15s 6d weekdays and 17s 6d on a Saturday. Dinner sessions were from 7.15-10.45pm with the show at 8.15pm and supper sessions were from 11pm-2am with the show at 12. On Saturday night there was just one session from 7.30pm – 12.30am with the show at 8.15pm and 11.10am.
The Stage said that ‘there is nothing else quite like it in London’ and it was no surprise that the London Casino quickly became the place to go for an evening’s entertainment and for the first time it made money, taking on average £6-7,000 per week. Theatre World declared that it had ‘become the most popular rendezvous in the entertainment world’ where one could watch the show, socialise with friends, have dinner or supper, drink and dance. A few years later Theatre World added that it was ‘one of the smartest and most popular resorts of London’s night life’ with perfect cuisine, immaculate service and two first-rate orchestras to complete the evening.
Under Clifford Fischer’s consortium seven extravagant shows were produced at the French Casino. Folies Parisienne was followed by Folies de Femmes (September 1936), Folies d’Amour (January 1937), Nuits de Folies (September 1937) a renamed version of The French Casino Folies from New York, Folies Superbes (December 1937) a renamed version of The New Folies Bergere show from New York and then in April 1938 two shows were put on: Plaisirs de Paris (at dinner) and Montmartre a Minuit or Midnight (at supper).
In late 1938, perhaps following the demise of the French Casino in New York in November 1937, the London Casino closed. But all was not lost, Alfred Esdaile who directed the shows at the Prince of Wales Theatre took the lease over and staged La Revue du Bal Tabarin in February 1939, followed by two shows – Revue d’Elegance (at dinner) and Folies de Minuit (at supper) in August 1939.
However even Esdaile could not continue and by 1940 the London Casino had closed presumably due to the war and the fact that the blitz on London did not encourage the theatre going public to go out as before. However, in 1942 it became a forces theatre. After the war it was converted back into a theatre where variety shows were staged and it is still in use today.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
New York Times, Variety, Dancing Times, The Age, The Stage, Chicago Tribune and Theatre World.