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A Short Guide to Sadler’s Wells

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Sadler’s Wells Theatre is a performing arts venue located in Islington. Sadler’s Wells is renowned as one of the world’s leading dance venues staging productions for visiting companies and producing shows with a number of associated artists and companies. The present day Sadler’s Wells theatre has a 1,500 seat main auditorium and the Lilian Baylis Studio and also runs the Peacock Theatre in the West End.

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Sadler’s Wells 1808

The modern façade of the present theatre gives little indication of the remarkable history of Sadler’s Wells which goes back to the 17th century. Richard Sadler opened the first theatre in 1683, on a site that also had ‘medicinal’ springs, thereafter Sadler’s Wells began to gain a famous reputation for both water and for music which attracted a wealthy  clientele. However by the early 18th century, the quality of the clientele had declined and the theatre began to become notorious for its ‘debauchery’. The next reincarnation of the theatre opened in 1765 and during the early 19th century, attracted some of the great actors and comedians of the time including Edmund Kean and Joseph Grimaldi and later began to present successful adaptations of popular novels of the time, such as A Christmas Carol. Shakespeare Plays also began to be produced before the late 19th century saw the theatre condemned as dangerous in 1878. A new theatre open on the site opened in 1879, which became a music hall and then a cinema before becoming increasingly run-down and closed in 1915.

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Sadler’s Wells 1879

In 1925 the proprietor of the Old Vic theatre, Lilian Baylis seeking to expand her opera and drama productions and set up a charitable foundation to buy Sadler’s Wells for the nation. The appeal committee included several influential figures including Winston Churchill and G. K Chesterton helped to raise enough money to buy the theatre and the theatre reopened in 1931 with its own Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and the Vic-Wells Ballet. Sadler’s Wells connection with various ballet companies attracted many of the greatest dancers to the Sadler’s Wells stage.

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From the 1970s, Sadler’s Wells began to put on a diverse range of productions with performers from all over the world and in 1988, the Lilian Baylis Theatre opened. The 1990s saw the demolition of the old theatre and a new £54 million theatre which received a considerable sum from National Lottery funding. The new theatre was able to accommodate much larger companies and productions which enable Sadler’s Wells   to develop its reputation for working with some of the best dance groups and choreographers in the world. Michael Nunn, Matthew Bourne, Wayne McGregor, Akram Khan, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant have all produced some of their best work for Sadler’s Wells in recent years.

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Sadler’s Wells offers cutting edge, world-class contemporary dance with great value for money ticket prices. Some of the most exciting productions in Dance are often premiered at the theatre before moving into the West End.

For more information, visit the Sadler’s Wells website here

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