Although the current building first opened its doors in 1960, there has been a theatre on the site since the 17th century. After the building of Kingsway, the block between Portugal Street and Sardinia Street was taken up in 1911 by Oscar Hammerstein's magnificent London Opera House seating 2,600 with a facade emulating Versailles. The venture was a commercial disaster and the building was sold to Oswald Stoll in 1916 and renamed after its new owner.
The Stoll Picture Theatre presented highly successful variety and revue shows before the nightly film feature up until the 1950s when Anton Dolin's Festival Ballet restored the theatre to a mixed programme of ballet and opera.
In 1957, the Stoll Picture Theatre was demolished to be replaced by an office block with the Royalty Theatre nestling snugly in its basement. The new theatre seats a modest 1,000 and on its opening boasted 'infra-dig' rosewood panelling, a stained-glass mural and Aztec-influenced mosaic sculptures on the canopy.
More notable productions at the theatre included The Visit and the opening season of Oh! Calcutta! The theatre later presented several Paul Raymond revues with dubious titles like Birds of a Feather. This period left the theatre with trapdoors in the proscenium arch (the 'tart-traps') for those airborne entrances and a dolphin tank (complete with dolphin) beneath the stage, which could be raised up for aquatic entertainments. Sadly, the conditions proved far from congenial for poor Flipper, who passed into legend as the only ghost that the theatre boasts: a spectral squeaking, not unlike a crying baby, to be heard desolately wailing by its now abandoned and rusted prison...
Subsequent years saw the theatre used as a TV studio for This Is Your Life and its transformation into a Caribbean paradise for Once On This Island.
Currently owned by the London School of Economics, the theatre now renamed the Peacock – after a legacy from a former alumnus – leads a Jekyll and Hyde existence: lecture theatre by day and home of Sadler's Wells' West End programme by night. Its 60s’ decor has been swept away to be replaced by bold new styling in the bars and front-of-house areas.
Today the Sadler’s Wells ballet company stages contemporary dance and receives dance and physical theatre productions from touring companies, regional theatres and international theatre companies.