L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!
A brief glance at erudite works on architecture such as James Stevens Curl’s Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (1999) or Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England series (various dates from 1951) Is sufficient to show how rare it is to find more than passing reference to the great theatre architects, such as W. G. R. Sprague and C. J. Phipps - neither of whom rates space in the Oxford Dictionary - and the unsurpassed Frank Matcham - who is allotted a grudging eight lines. Sprague, subordinate to Matcham only in physical stature, was commissioned in 1912 to design the Ambassadors for Ambassadors Theatre Ltd, to be followed (three years later) by St Martin's Theatre, the two being separated by Tower Court (formerly Lumber Court), a pedestrian footway.
It is not readily apparent from the street, but the planning of the Ambassadors is the work of a master. The site is extremely restricted, to the north by the long established West Street Chapel, built around 1700 for French Protestant refugees and closely associated with John and Charles Wesley; to the south by Lumber Court; and upwards by a serious height limitation in respect of the law of Ancient Lights, namely the right of a building's owner to have daylight fall on his established windows - (a right struggled with some years later by Ewen Barr when he designed the Duchess Theatre in 1929). Thus it is that the later theatre, unhampered by any such height restriction, overshadows the earlier Ambassadors - but ironically the pair are now totally dominated by Orion House, a ponderous 14-storey block designed by Renton Howard Wood Levine Partnership (1990).
Small buildings and a comer pub were demolished to provide this vacant plot In an area where many artisan houses had been cleared to make way, in particular, for Sandringham Buildings, opposite the theatre. Opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales In 1884, these Gothic-style dwellings were designed to house some 1,500 poorer residents - a ready-made audience of working people earning an adequate amount of money and often quite happy to spend some of it at the playhouse.
The low-rise, three-storey stuccoed theatre, painted yellow and very pale blue, is entered on the angle, under a continuous canopy. The very restrained classical main elevation which curves into Tower Court Is articulated by four central pilasters, flanked by more prominent channelled pllastered wings under segmental pediments. A single-bay wing repeats in Tower Court. The pretty foyer Is of necessity small-scale; the deceptively grand Louis XVI-style auditorium, now painted cream apart from coloured ambassadorial crests at high level, was described In 1913 as being Parma violet, ivory and dull gold. The shallow curve of the dress circle, with Its panelled front enhanced by bay-leaf swags and plain shields, has been placed unusually close to the proscenium. To the rear of the dress circle a second small circle Is provided as a raised tier, and the shallow-domed auditorium ceiling is ornamented with heavily ribboned leaf decoration and central swags of fruit, flowers and musical Instruments. Above the foyer Is a small, cosy and quite attractive dress-circle bar. Of the timber stage machinery nothing survives.
Vivien Leigh made her West End debut here in 1935, the Blitz failed to close the doors, and The Mousetrap, now In Its 59th year, was launched from here in November 1952. The play moved next door to the St Martins Theatre In 1974, since when outstanding productions have Included 84 Charing Cross Road and The Killing of Sister George, starring Miriam Margolyes.
The theatre was, along with the adjacent St Martin's conceived by their architect, W. G. R. Sprague, as companions, born at the same time in 1913, but the First World War interrupted the construction of the latter for three years. The Ambassadors was built with the intention of being an intimate, smaller theatre and is situated opposite the renowned restaurant The Ivy, favourite haunt of the theatrical elite.
The theatre was Grade II listed by English Heritage in March 1973.
In 1999 the theatre was renamed The New Ambassadors Theatre, then in June 2007 the theatre reverted back to its original name of The Ambassadors Theatre.
The masterly design which overcame a variety of site and planning restrictions.