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  The Savoy Theatre

From The Times, Monday, October 3, 1881.

An important addition to the numerous playhouses in the neighbourhood of the Strand will be made on Thursday, when Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s new theatre, the Savoy, will be opened. Its name is derived from the historic associations of the site on which it is erected, between the Strand and the Victoria Embankment, “in the precinct of the Savoy,” where stood formerly the Savoy Palace. The purpose of the new theatre is in the first instance the representation on a larger and more adequate scale of the operas of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan, with the reproduction of which in England and America Mr. D’Oyly Carte has been prominently connected, and the opening night, accordingly, will witness the transfer of Patience from the Opera Comique to its new home, where its success will no doubt remain undiminished.

According to the official statement before us the Savoy Theatre has been erected from the designs and under the superintendence of Mr. C. J. Phipps, the well-known architect. The façade towards the Embankment and that in Beaufort-buildings are of red brick and Portland stone. The theatre is large and commodious, and will seat 1,292 persons. It is worthy of notice that an attempt will be made here for the first time in London to light a theatre entirely by electricity. The system used is that of the “incandescent lamp,” invented by Mr. J. W. Swan, and worked by an engine of Messrs. Siemens, Brothers, and Co. About 1,200 lights are used, and the power to generate a sufficient current for these is obtained from large steam-engines, giving about 120-horse power, placed on some open land near the theatre. The new light is not only used in the audience part of the theatre, but on the stage for foot-lights, side and top-lights, &c., and (not of the least importance for the comfort of the performers) in the dressing rooms – in fact, in every part of the house. This is the first time that it has been attempted to light any public building entirely by electricity. What is being done is an experiment, and may succeed or fail. It is not possible, until the application of the accumulator or secondary battery – the reserve store of electric power – becomes practicable, to guarantee absolutely against any breakdown of the electric light. To provide against such a contingency gas is laid on throughout the building, and the “pilot” light of the central sunburner will be always kept alight, so that in case of accident the theatre can be flooded with gaslight in a few seconds.

The decorations of the theatre are by Messrs. Collinson and Lock, and as far as can at present be judged the general effect will be bright as well as harmonious. The ornament consists entirely of delicate plaster modelling, designed in the manner of the Italian Renaissance. The main colour-tones are white, pale yellow, and gold – gold used only for backgrounds, or in large masses, and not following what may be called, for want of a worse name, the gingerbread school of decorative art for gilding relief-work or mouldings. The back walls of the boxes and the corridors are in two tones of Venetian red. No painted act drop is used, but a curtain of gold-coloured satin, quilted, having a fringe at the bottom, and a vallance of embroidery of the character of Spanish work, keeps up the consistency of the colour scheme. This curtain is arranged to drape from the centre, and is covered by an old-fashioned baize curtain. The stalls are covered with blue plush of an inky hue, and the balcony seats are of stamped velvet of the same tint, while the curtains of the boxes are of yellowish silk, brocaded with a pattern of decorative flowers in broken colour.

The Savoy Theatre contains 18 private boxes, there being none on the gallery tier, 150 stalls, a small pit to hold 250 persons, 160 balcony seats (the balcony having no pillars to obstruct the view), 160 circle seats, and an amphitheatre and gallery to seat 400 or 500. A perfect view of the stage can be had from every seat in the house. The entire stage is visible to a person standing at the back of the gallery. In this matter of sighting and, indeed, in the construction of the theatre throughout, Mr. Phipps appears to have achieved a remarkable success. The space from the proscenium to the main ceiling is filled by an arch sloping upwards to the gallery, which, it is hoped, will assist the conveyance of sound. The Savoy is stated to be the only theatre in London of which the four outer-walls stand open and in four thoroughfares. There are exits and entrances on all four sides, giving two exits from every part of the house, most valuable conditions with a view to safety from fire; and it is calculated that the entire audience can be cleared out in less than three minutes. The passages and staircases are of fire-resisting materials and the stage is divided from the front by a solid brick wall, extending from the ground to above the roof. It may be noted that this is the first theatre which has been built under the new Act of 1878 and under the new regulations of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which are especially directed to the prevention of accidents by fire and are most stringent.

The entrance to the upper circle is in Beaufort-buildings, Strand, and foot passengers to private boxes, stalls, balcony, and pit also enter by the same way; the gallery entrance is in Carting-lane, and the carriage entrance is from the Victoria Embankment, close to Waterloo-bridge, on the west side of the bridge, by way of Savoy-place, Savoy-hill, and the new Somerset-street.

Refreshment saloons, retiring and cloak rooms, are provided for all parts of the house, and there is a smoking room and lounge for ladies on the stalls level. An entrance to the box-office, for use in the daytime, is in Beaufort-buildings and approached from the Strand.

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