Designed by architect C. J. Phipps, it was built by producer Henry Leslie with profits from the Alfred Cellier and B. C. Stephenson hit Dorothy, which he transferred from the Prince of Wales Theatre to open his new venue on December 17 1888. It was the second theatre to be constructed on this stretch of Shaftesbury Avenue and is now the oldest on the street. The foyer and bars were refurbished in 1932-33, and the facade was restored in 1994. At present it seats 967 on four levels, although it originally was designed with a seating capacity of 1,306. The theatre still uses an electric pump to operate its iron curtain.
Early in the theatre's history, it staged mostly light operas, and later it was a home to light comedies and straight dramas.
The theatre retains many of its original features (including being built behind an original 1767 house front, at the rear to Great Windmill Street, the former house and museum of Sir William Hunter) and the theatre was Grade II listed by English Heritage in September 1960.