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The Savoy Theatre, Strand, WC2

Introduction - First Theatre - Second and Present Theatre

The Savoy Theatre during the run of 'Porgy And Bess' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Savoy Theatre during the run of 'Porgy And Bess' in October 2006.

 

 

See a Seating Plan for this Theatre with non commercial and independent opinions on the best seats to book - From Seatplan.co.ukSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Savoy Theatre that we know today opened on the 21st of October 1929 with a production of Gilbert and Sulivan's 'The Gondoliers'. However, there was an earlier Theatre on the site, also called the Savoy Theatre, which opened on the 10th of October 1881 with a production of Gilbert and Sulivan's 'Patience or Bunthorne's Bride.'

Programme for the 1954 season of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre.The Savoy Theatre is intimately connected with Gilbert and Sulivan and D'Oyly Carte who originally became partners whilst working at the Royalty Theatre in Soho. D'Oyly Carte was the business manager of that Theatre and both Gilbert and Sulivan had produced a one act cantata called 'Trial By Jury' there. Together they formed a company called the 'Comedy Opera Company' in order to promote the work of Gilbert and Sulivan, who had previously had a work of theirs put on at the Gaiety Theatre in 1871, 'Thespis or the Gods Grown Old Together', but this had not been a success.

Left - A Programme for the 1954 season of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre.

So the first collaboration between D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sulivan was 'The Sorcerer' which they produced at the Opera Comique in 1877, which was followed by 'H.M.S. Pinafore' in 1878, 'The Pirates of Penzance' in 1880, and then 'Patience' in 1881. Whilst ''H.M.S. Pinafore' was on D'Oyly Carte became the Lessee and manager of the Opera Comique and as the lease neared its end he decided rather than try and renew the lease it would be better to build his own Theatre, and so it came about that the Savoy Theatre was built.

 

The First Savoy Theatre - 1881

Seating Plan for the original Savoy Theatre - Click to Enlarge.The First Savoy Theatre opened on the 10th of October 1881 with a production of Gilbert and Sulivan's 'Patience or Bunthorne's Bride.' It was built by Messrs Patman and Fotheringham and designed by the respected Theatre Architect C. J. Phipps with its main entrance on the Embankment. The plot was a steep one stretching from the Strand down to the Embankment along Beaufort Street. In 1903, when the Savoy Hotel was built with profits from the Theatre, the entrance to the Theatre was moved to the Hotel's courtyard off the Strand, where it still is today.

Right - A Seating Plan for the original Savoy Theatre - Click to Enlarge.

Plaque situated on the side wall of the Savoy Theatre.This Savoy Theatre was the first Theatre to use electricity to light its auditorium rather than Gas Lighting which was used everywhere else at the time and later it was also used to light the stage. However Gas Lighting was also installed in case the electricity failed.

A programme for the premier production of 'Journey's End' at the Savoy Theatre in January 1929 - Courtesy Sally Stark.Left - A Plaque situated on the side wall of the present Savoy Theatre says:- 'Opened in 1881. The Savoy Theatre was the first public building in the World to be lit throughout by electricity'.

The auditorium was on four levels, Stalls and Pit, Balcony, Gallery, and Amphitheater at the top with a capacity of 1,300. The stage was 60' Wide by 52' Deep.

One of the last productions at the original Savoy was on the 21st of January 1929 when the Theatre was home to the premier of R. C. Sherriff's 'Journey's End' which launched the careers of Colin Clive and James Whale.

Right - A programme for the premier production of 'Journey's End' at the first Savoy Theatre in January 1929, shortly before the Theatre was rebuilt - Courtesy Sally Stark.

 

The Second and Present Savoy Theatre - 1929

The Savoy Theatre during the run of 'Porgy And Bess' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Savoy Theatre during the run of 'Porgy And Bess' in October 2006 - Photo M.L.

Rear elevation of the Savoy Theatre in 2006 - Photo M.L.The Second Savoy Theatre was a rebuilding of the first and opened on the 21st of October 1929 with a production of Gilbert and Sulivan's 'The Gondoliers'.

The exterior of the earlier Theatre was kept but the interior was completely reconstructed to the designs of Frank A. Tugwell, and built by the Pitcher Construction Company. The decorations were by Basil Ionides. Originally this Theatre had its main entrance on the Embankment just as the first Theatre did, but this was soon moved back to the Savoy Hotel Canopy position where it remains today.

Right - The Rear elevation of the Savoy Theatre in 2006 - Photo M.L.

The new Savoy was a far more modern construction and hailed at the time as being 'a really outstanding example of modern decoration applied to a public place on a commercial basis.' The new auditorium was on three levels, Stalls, Dress, and Upper Circle with a capacity of 1,138 and the new stage was much smaller at 29' 4" Wide by 29' 6" Deep.

In February 1990, whilst the Theatre was being renovated, a fire started in the middle of the night in the auditorium and was soon to engulf the building. Everything but the stage and backstage areas was completely gutted and it looked as if the Savoy Theatre had come to its end as nobody believed that it would, or indeed could, be rebuilt.

 

A Seating Plan for the Savoy Theatre's 1929 auditorium before the fire of 1990

Above - A Seating Plan for the Savoy Theatre's 1929 auditorium before the fire of 1990

 

Programme for 'Clive Of India' at the Savoy Theatre in 1934.However, by 1993 the Theatre had been rebuilt, despite the fact that D'Oyly Carte himself had long ago destroyed the original plans. The Theatres Trust says:- 'The restoration is a triumphant example of what can be achieved by a meticulous examination of fragmentary remains, coupled with research and deductive skill.'

During the renovation an extra storey was added above the Theatre to house plant machinery, a health club for the hotel, and amazingly, a swimming pool above the stage. The renovation was carried out by Whitfield Partners who restored the original Ionides auditorium and decorations but added some alterations for modern requirements.

Programme for Agatha Christie's 'Spider's Web' at the Savoy Theatre in 1954.Right - A Programme for 'Clive Of India' at the Savoy Theatre in 1934.

All in all the renovation of the Savoy after a catastrophic fire is remarkable, first that it happened at all, and second that it was so meticulously done, leaving the Savoy Theatre to carry on into the 21st Century in style. The current capacity is 1,158.

Left - A Programme for Agatha Christie's 'Spider's Web' at the Savoy Theatre in 1954.

The Savoy Theatre still produces Gilbert and Sulivan Operas on occasion. The Theatre is currently owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group whose own website for the Theatre can be found here.

 

London's West End Theatres

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