Apollo Victoria Theatre
17 Wilton Road,
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Opened as the New Victoria Theatre on 15th October 1930 with George Arlis in “Old English”, plus a stage show “Hoop-La” and Reginald Foort opened the Compton 3Manual/15Rank theatre organ. It was designed for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres(PCT) by William Edward Trent and Ernest Wamsley Lewis. Built on a rectangular site it has two almost identical facades one to Vauxhall Bridge Road and the other on Wilton Road -the site measured 167 feet by 100 feet.
The two facades are severe in appearance with the main feature being horizontal banding (containing four rows of four rectangular steel framed windows at the stage end) which contrasts sharply by the vertical banding over the dual entrances. On the Wilton Road entrance two bas-relief panels depicting an audience watching a film were the work of Newbury Abbot Trent who was also responsible for some of the interior sculptures.
The theatre is ingeniously planned with the stalls below ground level and the main foyer inserted into the balcony void area – the front circle emergency exits are at street level, giving some idea of the amount of excavation that had to be undertaken.
The auditorium was designed as a ‘mermaid’s palace’. With huge flowers which branch up and lights with the appearance of glass stalactites hanging down from the ceiling (long removed). The proscenium was a mass of nine slender silver columns on either side above which were dummy organ pipes, again in silver giving the impression of a waterfall. Elsewhere decorative touches of fish, shells and waves can be found.
Seating capacity was originally for 2,860, with 1,076 in the balcony. The stage – designed for cine-variety so small by modern standards – measures 22.56 metres by 7.32 metres and their 10 dressing rooms plus 2 suites.
The New Victoria Theatre was closed briefly during the war from September 1940 to May 1941 but sustained no serious damage. By this time it was operated the by Gaumont British Theatres chain.
Eventually becoming part of the Rank Organisation, film entertainment ended here on 1st November 1975 with the double bill:Peter Cushing in “Legend of the Werewolf” and Adrienne Corri in “Vampire Circus”.
Since when it has become a live entertainment venue – firstly mainly concerts staring the likes of Shirley Bassey, Dean Martin, and Liza Minnelli, then large scale West End musicals – a revival of “The Sound of Music”, and to-date, the longest run in the theatre was “Starlight Express” which opened here in 1984 and finally closed at the beginning of 2002. After this long run, the theatre closed for many months to allow for a major refurbishment. It became the home of the Bollywood spectacular “Bombay Dreams” followed by “Saturday Night Fever” and “Wicked”, and currently seats 1,934.
The Apollo Victoria is one of the UK’s best preserved 1930’s ‘super cinemas’ and its unique design and excellent condition fully justify its Grade II* Listed building status which was bestowed by English Heritage in 1972.
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