Alhambra Theatre of Variety

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The Alhambra Theatre of Variety was a popular music hall located at Leicester Square, in the West End of London, England. It was built originally as the Royal Panopticon of Science and Arts, an institution for ‘scientific exhibitions and for promoting discoveries in arts and manufactures’ opening on 18 March 1854. This venture went bankrupt inside two years and the was sold to E.T. Smith. It was renamed as the Alhambra Palace and in 1858 a circus ring was installed. Though the circus was successful, Smith converted the building to a dance hall and reopened as the Alhambra Palace Music Hall in December 1860.[1]

Alhambra Theatre of Variety
Leicester Square with the Alhambra formerly the Royal Panopticon ILN 1874.jpg
The Alhambra Theatre dominated Leicester Square in 1874
Address23–27 Leicester Square
Westminster, London
Coordinates51°30′37″N 0°07′49″W / 51.510278°N 0.130278°W / 51.510278; -0.130278Coordinates: 51°30′37″N 0°07′49″W / 51.510278°N 0.130278°W / 51.510278; -0.130278
TypeMusic hall
Years active1854– ??
ArchitectT. Hayter Lewis

Music hallEdit

Balcony at the Alhambra by Spencer Gore, painted 1910-1911.
Programme cover from The Bing Boys Are Here 1916.

The Alhambra Theatre of Variety adopted some of the Parisian caf'conc style but became, in turn, a model for Parisian music halls. Some years before the Folies-Bergere it staged circus attractions alongside popular ballets in 55 new productions between 1864 and 1870.[2]

The Alhambra Theatre of Variety was predominantly used for the popular entertainment of the day. The usual music hall acts were performed, as well as tight rope walker Pauline Violante who appeared as "the female Blondin"[3] and the trapeze artist Jules Léotard performing his aerial act, above the heads of diners in May 1861. Other entertainments included "patriotic demonstrations" celebrating the British Empire and British military successes. The theatre also staged ballet and light opera. In the 1860s, John Hollingshead took over the management and made it famous for its corps de ballet.

Early films were also a part of the entertainment, with Robert W. Paul, a former collaborator of Birt Acres, presenting his first theatrical programme on 25 March 1896.

A fire in 1882 destroyed the interior of the building. The reconstruction retained the original columns and arches but with a more theatrical appearance.[1]


The Alhambra Theatre of Variety moved into 23–27 Leicester Square, where previously the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art was housed for two years. The Alhambra Theatre of Variety opened 3 April 1858. Inside the building a central rotunda. In 1897 the theatre was expanded and a second entrance was added on Charing Cross Road.[1]


The Alhambra was torn down in 1936. The Odeon Leicester Square is now on the site.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Alhambra Theatre". Theatres Trust.
  2. ^ Sarah Gutsche-Miller (2015). Parisian Music-hall Ballet 1871-1913. Boydell & Brewer. p. 4. ISBN 9781580464420.
  3. ^ "Violante, Pauline [real name Selina Young] (b. 1840/41), tightrope walker". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53819. Retrieved 21 November 2020.