L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!
Catherine Street, opened in 1673 and named in honour of Charles Il’s Queen, Catherine of Braganza, whom diarist Samuel Pepys considered ‘mighty pretty', extended south to the Strand until the opening of Aldwych in 1905. Until 1974 its northern end fed into the organized conglomeration of wagons, carts, containers and porters that was Covent Garden Market, prior to the market moving in that year to modern accommodation at Nine Elms. Since then, the shops and pubs that catered for the contrasting needs of market and theatre-goers alike have been transformed almost en masse into the boutiques and bistros that crowd around the Duchess.
In the early 1920s the site was owned by William Clarkson, a theatrical costumier, who had ambitions to build his own theatre. His vision came to nought, however, because of problems he encountered with the law of Ancient Lights, specifically the illegal obstruction of one’s neighbour’s daylight that would result from the building planned. Finally he gave up and sold the plot to West End and Country Theatres Ltd, which leased it on to Arthur Gibbons, a promoter whose choice of architect Ewen S. Barr was inspired.
Barr must have spent many hours at his drawing board before the persistent problem that had defeated Clarkson was finally solved. He would sink the stalls deep into the ground, extending back under the foyer and what is now the dress-circle bar, which in turn would be formed into the underside of the dress circle. The resultant low-rise design overcame the daylight obstacle, and a small but attractive theatre was born. Interestingly, at almost the same time that Barr was designing for Gibbons, he was looking to the future and producing, with T. R. Sommerford, the interiors of four early atmospheric London Astoria cinemas.
Externally, the embryonic ’Elizabethan’ Portland-stone frontage, with its three shallow canted bay windows and simplified decorative motifs, forms a loose group with the Novello Theatre on the opposite side of the road, and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to the north. Originally, the equally simple Art Deco interior with dished, domed ceiling was enlivened by a sensitive colour scheme in blue, silver and mauve by Marc Henri and Gaston Laverdet, later to be redesigned by Mary Wyndham-Lewis, wife of the playwright J. B. Priestley. Sadly, the only survivals of this decoration in today's partially artexed and cream- painted auditorium are two rather special bas-reliefs, which were designed by the young sculptor Maurice Lambert, flanking the proscenium arch.
The Duchess opened on 25 November 1929; among its successes are J. B. Priestley’s Laburnum Grove, which ran for 335 performances in 1933, and Emlyn Williams’s The Com Is Green, which ran for 395 performances in 1938. More recently, the highly successful Oh! Calcutta was transferred here from the Royalty, followed in 1986 by No Sex Please - We 're British, which completed a run of 6,671 performances at the Duchess, having transferred from the Garrick.
The Duchess theatre was designed by Ewen Barr, and constructed by F. G. Minter Ltd, for Arthur Gibbons. The theatre is built with the stalls below street level, to overcome the scale of the site, and the rights of neighbours to Ancient lights. The theatre opened on 25 November 1929. The interior decoration scheme was introduced in 1934 under the supervision of Mary Wyndham Lewis, wife of J. B. Priestley.
Bas-reliefs by sculptor Maurice Lambert.