National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

'Kennington Brick Reliefs'

Summary

Type Other , Sculpture

     There are five figurative reliefs carved into the brickwork on the exterior of the balcony parapet at the front of the 1930s Royal Shakespeare Theatre. They are based on the emotions of Shakespeare's plays and from left to right depict: Treachery, Jollity, Life Triumphing over Death, Martial Ardour and Love. In the Treachery panel is a cloud at the top out of which a head appears, looking down. Beneath the cloud is a man who seems to be hiding his face from the God figure above, he has a dagger hanging from his belt and is about to stab a young man sleeping in a cornfield depicted below. In the Jollity panel are two figures, a man who is dancing and another who seems to be playing a concertina. In the panel depicting Life Triumphing Over Death is a naked young woman with long flowing hair down to the ground. She is kneeling, her hands to either side in a devotional gesture and under her is a skull, and to the left of the skull are the initials of the sculptor 'EK'. In the panel representing Martial Ardour are two figures wearing armour, one of whom is lying crumpled on the ground at the bottom. The second figure is standing over him with his hands above his head, clenching some kind of weapon, possibly a sword, and is about to strike the man on the ground. In the Love panel is a depiction of a standing couple. The female faces forward, the male is to one side of her with his arm around her shoulder, holding her hand, and his face is leaning towards her. She has one leg up in the air, bent at the knee and she leans slightly backwards in acceptance of his advances.
     William Unsworth designed the first theatre on this site, built in 1879-81.This first theatre was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1926, with only the library and art gallery wing. A competition was launched in January 1927 to select architects to design a new theatre building for the riverside site. The relatively unknown Elizabeth Scott's design was chosen. The material selected for the exterior of the theatre was red-sand brick, softened by interspersing patterns of silver-grey bricks, handmade by S. and E. Colliers Company. There is very little external decoration except for the five sculptural panels carved in situ by Eric Kennington. These sculptures illustrate Kennington's belief that sculpture must be part of building, not something stuck on and the Architectural Review described them as Gothic in spirit for this reason.(1) The artist himself said he was inspired by the calendar carvings on Chartres Cathedral.(2.) The Prince of Wales opened the theatre on 23 April 1932, Shakespeare's birthday. It has been confirmed by the Royal Shakespeare Company management and the artistic director Adrian Noble that there are plans to build a new theatre on the site of the present building. It is envisaged that the 1930s building will be demolished, leaving only the museum and gallery from the 19th Century building unaffected. The Dutch architect Eric Van Egeraat has been appointed. This development will obviously affect the future of Kennington's work.(3)
     Treachery, Jollity, Life Triumphing over Death, Marital Ardour, Love .

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Kennington, Eric Sculptor
Scott, Elizabeth Architect

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
reliefs x 5 carved brick 140cm x 60cm x 23cm

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WAsaSAtg005 BM
General condition Fair
Surface condition
  • Surface spalling, crumbling
  • Corrosion, Deterioration
Structural condition
  • Cracks, splits, breaks, holes
Vandalism
Road Waterside
Precise location high on facade of Royal Shakespeare Theatre
A-Z ref None
OS ref SP203547
Date of design None
Year of unveiling 1932
Unveiling details 23 April 1932
Commissioned by Elizabeth Scott, the architect
Duty of care Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Listing status II*
At risk? At Risk

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