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The Saville Theatre opened in 1931. It was steel-framed with mainly brick cladding, generally rectilinear in character, but with a striking facade to Shaftesbury Avenue. This has a channelled stone base, above which is a lively sculptural relief frieze, nearly 40m (130ft) long, by Gilbert Bayes, representing ‘Drama Through The Ages’. Above this is a moulded band and a blind, parapeted upper storey in channelled brickwork. The entrance is set in a giant arched opening (its original bronze glazed screen now gone) flanked at high level by ornamental plaques, by the same artist. The Bayes work has been described as ‘perhaps the most significant sculpture of the 1930s on a prominent building’. The interior was originally three tier. The large stalls bar, and a lounge had mural paintings by A R Thompson added to in 1995 by John Collins.

It is ironic that the Saville, possibly the most suitable of all the West End theatres for film exhibition, remained strictly for live performance until 1970. However, in that year it was acquired by EMI as a West End flagship for ABC, and was subdivided for twin cinemas resulting in the loss of the foyers and main auditorium space. The building was further divided into four screens in 2001.

Recent investigation carried out as a result of a 2018 planning application to convert the Saville into a hotel with basement cinema has shown that the significant elements of the existing theatre survive. This includes the stage house complete with its original grid and lantern, substantial parts of the outer walls and the original roof to the auditorium, the dressing room block and many of the original staircases. It is unknown how much of the original Art Deco decorative scheme may remain beneath the new fabric. The hotel scheme which would have resulted in the complete loss of the surviving interior of the building and destroyed any possibility of the Saville being returned to theatre use, was refused planning permission. The applicant subsequently took the case to appeal. Theatres Trust was a Rule 6 party at the Public Inquiry, and provided significant evidence as to the viability of the site as for theatre use and the demand for such use. The Covent Garden Community Association was also granted Rule 6 status, opposing the loss of the building and championing its return to theatre use.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1931 - 1969
Current state
Current use
Cinema (Twin from 1970; four screen from 2001)
135 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Camden, WC2H 8AH, England
Further details
Other names
Gaiety (name proposed but not adopted) , ABC , Cannon , MGM , ABC
  • 1931 Design/Construction:
    T P Bennett & Son
    - Architect
  • 1931 Design/Construction:
    Bertie Crewe
    - Consultant
    theatre consultant
    T P Bennett & Son
    - Consultant
    decoration furnishings
    Gilbert Bayes
    - Consultant
    exterior sculpture
    A R Thompson
    - Consultant
    mural in stalls bar
  • 1931 Owner/Management: A E Fournier (Savile Theatre Ltd), lessee; Jack Waller, manager
  • 1931 - 1969 Use:
  • 1946 Owner/Management: E R Hall, manager
  • 1947 Owner/Management: Delhall Ltd; L F Ridgley, manager
  • 1950 Owner/Management: Marianne Davis, manager
  • 1955 Owner/Management: John Clements, lessee
  • 1955 Alteration: interior redecorated and new mural in stalls bar
    - Architect
  • 1955 Design/Construction:
    Laurence Irving
    - Consultant
    interior refurbishment
    John Collins
    - Consultant
    mural in stalls bar
  • 1957 Owner/Management: STP Theatres Ltd, proprietors, with various managements, until:-
  • 1961 Owner/Management: Bernard Delfont (Lord Grade), lessee, later freeholder (not thought to be part of First Leisure)
  • 1970 Owner/Management: EMI, lessee, continuing as Cannon, ABC, MGM
  • 1970 Alteration: converted to twin cinema; stage house altered
    William Ryder & Associates
    - Architect
  • 1993 Owner/Management: ABC, lessee
  • 2001 Alteration: converted to four screens
    - Architect
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    1946: 1185
    1950: 1250
    1970: 616 & 581 (cinema)
  • Listing
    Listed 1998
Stage type
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: was 30ft
Proscenium width: was 31ft 6in
Height to grid: was 61ft
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: originally accommodated 30