London's Savoy Theatre - hidden Art Deco delight


London's Savoy Theatre - hidden Art Deco delight

Whilst most of London's surviving theatres are either Victorian, Edwardian or post-war, the Savoy Theatre on the Strand (well actually just off it) is unusual in having a remarkable later Art Deco 1920s interior. Closely associated with the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the original theatre was built in 1881, just before the famous similarly-named hotel next door, and helped to fund its construction.

To the initial design of C I Phipps, the Savoy Theatre first opened its doors on 10th October 1881 with a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience. Built at the instigation of Impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who wanted his own theatre in order to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, the Savoy Theatre became famous as the first public building in the world to be lit by incandescent electric lights.

The theatre originally had its main entrance on the Embankment. After D’Oyly Carte built the Savoy Hotel in 1889, the theatre entrance was moved to its present location at the hotel's courtyard off the Strand.

In 1929, the Victorian auditorium was demolished and the interior was completely rebuilt to designs by Frank A. Tugwell with elaborate décor by Basil Ionides. The ceiling was painted to resemble an April sky; the walls, translucent gold on silver; the rows of stalls all richly upholstered in different colours, and the curtain repeating the tones of the seating. Ionides said that he took the colour scheme from a bed of zinnias in Hyde Park. As well as the auditorium, the foyer (pictured) is a deco delight.

The Theatre re opened on 21st October 1929 with a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.

The Savoy Theatre suffered a major fire in 1990 and was refurbished to the 1929 designs. During the renovation, an extra storey was added above the theatre that includes a health club for the hotel and a swimming pool above the stage. It is rumoured that this pool supplies the drencher - a fire safety precaution able to dump a huge amount of water on the stage at the pull of a lever.

The current capacity of the theatre is 1,158.

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