Relief: Saville Theatre - Chester Players
Erection date: 1931
Site: Odeon (Saville) Theatre (5 memorials)
WC2, Shaftesbury Avenue, Odeon Covent Garden
The ‘Drama Through the Ages’ frieze is by Gilbert Bayes. The listing says "Bayes' frieze is one of the largest and most important works of public sculpture of its age, and won him the silver medal of the Institute of Sculptors for the best piece of applied sculpture of its year. It is 129 feet long and made from artificial stone."
At each end of the frieze, around the corners, there is a winged angel pulling back the curtain to reveal this cavalcade. Note also that the two plays chosen to begin and end the frieze are well-chosen. St Joan, a tragedy set in the medieval period, begins the procession and leads seamlessly into the Minstrels. Khaki, a comedy set in WW1, follows on naturally from the Twentieth Century.
Ornamental Passions has done a wonderful analysis of this complex frieze with a complete set of good photos (the traffic makes it very difficult to photograph). There are probably portraits of other actors but we can't identify any - let us know if you can.
Built in 1931 as the Saville Theatre, in a bold Art Deco style by Sir Thomas Bennett (who went on to design the Smithfield Poultry Market). The theatre was run by Brian Epstein from 1965 until his death in 1967 and it saw performances from some of the names of the time: Yoko Ono, Cream, Bee Gees, Rolling Stones, etc. and the Beatles filmed the “Hello, Goodbye” promo here (along with dancing girls in grass skirts). The theatre became an ABC cinema in 1970 and was taken over by Odeon in 2001. There is apparently little of the original interior left.
2018: The building is looking unloved - see the cracks in our photo for the Chester Players - and we noticed one section lower down on the building where a lump of stucco had been knocked off and not repaired. That old developers' trick of failing to maintain a building and then claiming it's so far gone that demolition is the only solution - that can't be happening here, surely.
2021: Camden rejected a planning appeal for conversion to a hotel. This would have gutted the interior and, of course, added floors on top.