West End’s ex-Saville Theatre purchase strengthens hope for theatre return

Odeon Covent Garden, ex-Saville Theatre (photo courtesy David Simpson)

A company called Yoo Capital has bought the Odeon (ex-Saville Theatre in the West End for around £30million, it was recently announced.

Opened in 1931, designed by the noted firm of T P Bennett & Sons, the originally 1400-seater mid-sized venue was in theatrical use until 1970, when it was remodeled as a twin-screen cinema, split horizontally, as which it continues today.

Thankfully Camden Council rejected several recent attempts to get permission to gut the building for a 90+ room hotel adding extra floors to the building. A recent inspection showed that there was much more of the original interior still existing than originally thought, with quite possibly more to be uncovered as the 70s additions are stripped away.

This is the second time that we have heard of Yoo Capital in relation to London theatre; they are also one of the investors behind the new complex at Olympia which will build a large, brand new theatre which Trafalgar Entertainment will lease. Interesting too that Trafalgar have expressed interest in the Saville building before, so this may signal that the renovation of the Saville may well be run by Trafalgar.

The most easily appreciated original elements are on the original facade which has an incredibly detailed bas-relief frieze by sculptor Gilbert Bayes. Measuring 129 feet in length, depicting ‘Drama Through the Ages’ with representations of ‘St. Joan’, ‘Imperial Roman Triumphal Procession’, ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘War Plays’ etc. Sections of this frieze were displayed at the Royal Academy in 1930-1931, prior to their installation on the building. Along the top of the façade are a series of plaques, again sculpted by Gilbert Bayes, which represent ‘Art Through the Ages’.

This lengthy, arresting frieze remains intact and is Grade II listed.

Original auditorium of the Saville Theatre in 1931. Courtesy Martin Clark, via Ken Roe

No doubt we will hear more about this interesting development in the months ahead.

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