Named after a windmill that had once stood at the same site, The Windmill Theatre first opened in London as a small playhouse, replacing Britain’s first art house cinema, the Palais de Luxe.
Laura Henderson, the widowed wife of a wealthy merchant, bought the Palais de Luxe in 1930. Mrs. Henderson and her theatre manager, Vivian Van Damm, decided to use the venue as a variety house with non-stop performances, and their show ‘Revudeville’ was an immediate success. The public flocked to the theatre to see the new productions, which ran from the afternoon until late into the night.
Despite its initial popularity, Revuedeville’s profitability declined, and the theatre lost £20,000 in its first few years of operation. In an effort to reinvent the theatre, Van Damm began to incorporate glamorous nude females on stage, inspired by the Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge.
The influence of Parisian debauchery was tentatively received by the licensing and theatre censorship authorities in London, and was only allowed under the condition that the women remained absolutely still for the duration of the performances. Should the models have moved a muscle, the theatre would have been closed down.
Mermaids, Red Indians and Britannia-themed costumes filled the stage, and movement was eventually introduced with the incorporation of fan dancing. A naked female model was concealed by feather fans held by her and four other female attendants, and at the end of the act her attendants removed the concealing fans. The model would then hold the pose for approximately ten seconds before the close of the performance.
The Windmill Theatre was the only entertainment venue to remain open throughout World War II, and performers often slept in the theatre during the worst periods of bombing. This historic venue and its unique brand of sensual entertainment has grown and transformed with the times, taking on a modern approach. These days, The Windmill International operates as a gentleman’s club, featuring both nude stage shows and tabletop dancers.