Saturday, 28 November 2009

Saville Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue WC2 (now Odeon Covent Garden)

Gilbert Bayes had a wonderful eye for animals. Look at the way these horses stretch and strain against the control of the charioteers in the 'Imperial Rome' section of the frieze.
When Bayes was designing the frieze, the 1925 silent movie Ben Hur was huge, and this must be a representation of that. However, the charioteer does not look much like star Ramon Novarro, though the plump governor type on the right, holding his helmet, might well be Francis X Bushman as Mesalla.
This is my favourite bit - a Bacchanalia. The Bacchante dance naked with their goblets of wine held aloft, one of them being groped by an goatish old satyr. The girls are very 1930s, slim, lithe and in total contrast to the buxom women painted by Titian or Alma Tadema. Behind, that old drunk Silenus rides his mule, pushed by a fool in cap and bells who has been temporarily seconded from the next group....
....the Harlequinade. Harlequinades were inexplicably popular between the wars. Columbine dances, Pierrot looks mournful and Harlequin himself brandishes his comedy sword called a battachio, or slapstick, designed to create a satisfying thwack that could be heard in the rear circle when applied to anyone caught bending. He is followed by Clown holding one of his props, a string of sausages.

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