The Savoy has a long and fascinating history. It is one of the oldest working theatres in Wales, and is located on the oldest known theatre site in the country. Today it’s a mixed-arts venue, programming films and event cinema alongside live music, comedy and more. Director and General Manager Chris Ryde has been working at the Savoy Theatre in various roles since 2009, and brings a wealth of industry experience with him. Here, he offers some insight into the venue’s significance to South Wales as both a nostalgic link to the past and a much-loved present-day destination that has adapted to many challenges in order to survive. Long may it continue!
What does the Savoy Theatre mean to its local community?
For many, it represents a link to their past and recalls either their movie-going heritage or a link to places they were brought up. It’s a place where films were meant to be seen. It is not a box or a multiplex; it is a purpose-built venue in which films are meant to be enjoyed. Our Art Deco design motif brings back the feel of movie-going in its heyday and gives a holistic experience to customers, as they can read all about the building and put their visit into context. It is a constant joy to see the look on people’s faces as they enter the auditorium from the street and realise they have walked into a piece of history.
Where did your own history with cinema begin?
I am delighted to say that the cinema that shaped my life is still going. The Ritz in Belper, Derbyshire, which I visited for the first time in 1957, and is still in operation thanks to a husband-and-wife team (the Mundins) who bought it, restored it, and made it operational. I visited them two years ago and it was a magical experience to go back.
What was your first job working with film?
My first job in the film industry was as a trainee producer in the 1970s. I worked with Nic Roeg, Adrian Lyne, and Ridley and Tony Scott. From 1977-2012 I worked for Equity, the union for performers and creative practitioners, which brought me into contact with plenty of filmmakers, and I spent many an hour on film sets.
What initiatives are you most proud of having worked on at the Savoy Theatre?
The most successful by far was re-introducing live entertainment, because it has been a massive success, and is what people most celebrate. Second to that was getting the funds secured for digital exhibition back in 2013. We had no money and there was a real prospect that we would not be able to survive as a first-run cinema, but we got there.
While cinemas are closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, have you begun any new initiatives to reach audiences at home?
The lockdown has had a big impact on our team, with almost all of our staff furloughed. Sadly this means we do not have the capacity to start any new projects right now, but we are keeping in touch with our audiences through newsletters and social media. We’re running a fundraiser to help the Savoy Theatre through this difficult time, and still welcoming supporters to our Friends of the Savoy scheme.
Once cinemas can reopen which film would be your first choice to see on the big screen?
The film that most exemplifies the spirit of the Savoy: The Smallest Show on Earth with Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford, made in 1957. I’d love to play it here.
If you’re a fan of the Savoy Theatre and would like to support them at this difficult time, you can donate to Chris’s fundraiser, Savoy Survival. If you’d like to support other independent cinemas in the UK, consider donating to the UK Cinema Fund. These donations will be added to the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund and used to offer critical relief and business continuity to exhibitors across the UK.