Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Odeon's classical origins

click photo to enlarge

Cycling along the promenade at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, a few years ago, I passed a building called the Hippodrome. I assumed it was a theatre of the early 1900s, but I was wrong. It was built in 1903, but as the permanent home of a circus. Today it is used in a way much more akin to a traditional theatre featuring shows, etc as well as a circus. The theatre was reasonably well-named because the original hippodromes were ancient Greek stadia for horse and chariot racing, a building type adopted by the Romans who extended their use (as circuses) to animal spectaculars, historic re-enactments etc. The British and American hippodrome theatres of the early 1900s also featured animal spectaculars but eventually became theatres for variety artistes, and after their day passed, the buildings often served as cinemas.

Cinemas themselves sometimes adopted classical names too. In London and Dublin there are Adelphi cinemas: Adelphi is Greek for "brothers". However, the most commonly found classically-inspired cinema name is undoubtedly the Odeon. The original buildings of this name were found in Athens, Sparta and other ancient Greek city states. Their purpose was to accommodate musical competitions, poetry readings and the like. In the late eighteenth century the name was resurrected for a famous Parisian theatre where, in 1784, the play, "The Marriage of Figaro" was premiered. When cinema came along Odeon was frequently the name of choice in Europe and the United States. Today it is so closely associated with the movies that its origins in antiquity are all but forgotten.

Today's semi-abstract photograph shows a detail of the foyer ceiling of Lincoln's modern Odeon cinema, a building of the twenty first century. With its swooping curves and blue neon tube detailing the ceiling seeks to combine with shiny stainless steel detailing and glossy escalators to inject glamour into the cinema-going experience.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm (45mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On