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Aldwych Theatre

William George Robert Sprague

alias Strand Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)23.12.1905 | opening
Opened with Blue Bell (a new edition of Bluebell in Fairyland). A musical dream play by Seymour Hicks and Walter Slaugh-ter, lyrics by Aubrey Hopwood and Charles H. Taylor.

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(detail)William George Robert Sprague |main architect

It is perhaps not generally realized that almost all of London's superbly intimate turn-of-the-century playhouses were designed by one man; Sprague was the architect of Wyndham's (1899), the Albery (1903; see colour plate Vi), the Strand (1905), the Aldwych (1905), the Globe (1906), the Queen's (1907), the Ambassadors (1913) and the St Martin's (1916). He also designed several other theatres in the London area, most of which have been destroyed. The Coronet (1898), now the Gaumont Cinema in Netting Hill Gate, and the Camden (1901) in Camden Town still survive, though under threat of demolition. The Edward VII in Paris, though apparently extremely French, was also designed by Sprague.

 

In:  Glasstone, Victor: Victorian and Edwardian Theatres: An Architectural and Social Survey. Harvard 1975 p. 104

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History

Though the decoration of the Aldwych was described in contemporary press releases as Georgian, it is in fact a mixture of Georgian and French Baroque-classicism. None of the Sprague theatres illustrated here had Daly's red and plush intensity which is now considered synonymous with the period. Wyndham's was turquoise-blue, cream, gilt and vieux rose; the Aldwych crimson, cream and gold, with rose du Barry upholstery and draperies; the Globe rose du Barry, ivory and gold; and the Queen's white and gold with green carpets, hangings and upholstery. The Aldwych is a twin of the Strand Theatre, which was originally called the Waldorf; their identical fafades, beautifully adapted to their corner sites, are separated by the Waldorf Hotel. The entire block forms an impressive and unified whole, something typical of the Aldwych-Kingsway scheme, which was one of the projects that in the early years of the twentieth century transformed Georgian and mid-Victorian London into an Imperial capital. Electric candles with silk shades were already fashionable for wall sconces. The naked bulbs of the 'nineties which gave a harsh and unflattering light were soon shaded to make the light more soothing, though the central chandeliers that tended to give a flat dead light to the auditorium were still used. By 1905, stage lighting was entirely electrical. As the action took place within the proscenium frame, lighting equipment was confined to battens in the flies, in the footlights and in the wings. With the invention of projector lamps in 1914, the earlier hand-controlled arc spotlights could be superseded by 'remote-control' spots. After about 1922 this system was much improved and spotlights were gradually moved out into the auditorium.

 

 

In: Glasstone, Victor: Victorian and Edwardian Theatres: An Architectural and Social Survey. Harvard 1975 p. 107

 

" Mr Sprague has not only introduced into his architectural scheme the latest improvements in theatre construction, but has also made certain departures which are all in the right direction. The decorations are in the Georgian style and the general appearance of the interior of the building is pleasing in the extreme. Handsome and ornate it cer­tainly is, but the words that correctly describe the impression conveyed by a first glance round, are cosy and comfortable. The prevailing scheme in crimson cream and gold and the contrast with Rose du Barri draperies and upholstery is striking and artistically effective. One of the innovations that will be greatly appreciated by the male members of the audience is a commodious "smokers' gallery" above the entrance hall."

The Era of 30 December 1905

 

 

Author: Victor Glasstone

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