London cinemas and theatres

Victoria Palace
From 14th to 17th October I have been in London, just for recovery of work overload, no lectures etc. involved this time. It proved to be a kind of theatre trip. The first night we went to see a musical at the Victoria Palace, near Victoria Station; a typical former music hall. It was the first of many theatres to follow, at least in seeing and capturing them.


In the subsequent days I photographed many theatres at the West End area that showed musicals, such as the the Apollo Victoria (Wicked), the Wyndham’s (Shawshank Redemption), the Palace Theatre (Priscilla),  the Noel Coward Theatre, the Garrick Theatre, etc. We also went to Leicester Square to see the Empire Cinema, the former music hall where in 1896-1897 Felicien Trewey gave the – highly popular – Lumiere shows. The 1893 front is still intact and has been restored. Next doors a casino moved in. On the location of the Alhambra theatre, Empire’s rival at Leicester Square in the age of music hall, the Odeon cinema rose in the 1930s.  As we passed by the impressive, functionalist-styled building, we noticed several people waiting for George Clooney, as his new film was being released during the London Film Festival.  Close to the  Square stands the Vu West End cinema, a Warner cinema of the 1930s with a nice deco styled front.

Drury Lane auditorium
On Thursdays, we did a tour at the Theatre Royal, better known as the Drury Lane theatre, built 1811, but several versions were there before, one of which burnt down despite a new safety curtain. We got a glimpse of the rehearsals of the sets of the musical Oliver being moved, but we were only permitted to shoot anything but the stage. While guided around we met the cleaning lady; Nell Gwynn, Charles II’s volupteous mistress; and the ghost of a murderous actor. I had a special relationship to the building, as future Dutch music hall owner, cinema owner and film distributor Anton Nöggerath junior shot a special insert for the play The Great Millionnaire (1901) performed at Drury Lane; Nöggerath was then working in the UK as cameraman. The insert of a car crash on the road to Plymouth was combined with a real motor-car on stage, but after problems on the opening night it was cut out and replaced by a mechanical solution, despite its popularity. Filmic inserts in plays were quite popular during the age of early cinema.

Friday night, we visited the opera Turandot at the Coliseum. It was a novelty to me to hear everybody sing in English instead of in Puccini’s native tongue, but that’s the tradition at the Coliseum. In spite of a superfluous kind of reporter witnessing the horrors going on at Turandot’s palace [his overacting was quite unnecessary], the leading singers did quite well. My favourite was Amanda Echelaz, performing a heartbreaking Liù. The sets were well done too, though I was glad we were in the platea; people in the upper aisles could not see the upper part of the stage design, we noticed when walking around during the interval. The London audience was not so smitten with the show and gave a short applause, and left. Well, too bad for them; I had a very enjoyable evening. The birthdaycake-like interior contributed to that, no doubt.

Turandot Amanda Echelaz

~ by Ivo Blom on November 8, 2009.

2 Responses to “London cinemas and theatres”

  1. You should’ve told me, I would have hooked you up with London’s biggest Cinema historian, Ken Roe, who you may know from Flickr.

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