Melvyn Reeves At The Troxy
It is a source of great joy to Melvyn Reeves that he has always lived within a few streets of where he was born in Stepney and that, at the centre of his personal universe in the East End, stands a gleaming Art Deco palace known as The Troxy.
In 1953, Melvyn’s mother took him at the tender age of three to see ‘Calamity Jane’ featuring Doris Day and for Melvyn it was love at first sight – encountering both The Troxy itself, with its extravagant modernist architecture, and the glamorous Hollywood stars, whose portraits line its halls today.“We used to come to The Troxy every fortnight,” Melvyn recalled fondly,“But I’ve only been in here three times since 1960 when it closed as a cinema.”
In recent years, the magnificent Troxy has been restored as a flexible events space and its ceramic frontage cleaned, so that once more it presents a shining face to Commercial Rd, creating an unmissable opportunity for Melvyn to risk a return visit to the fabled world of his childhood delight – and he generously took Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & me along too.
The Troxy opened in 1933 with a screening of ‘King Kong.’ Built at the cost of £250,000 and seating more than three and a half thousand, it offered a luxurious and sophisticated venue where all the staff wore evening dress and sprayed perfume during screenings.“If you wanted to go somewhere then The Troxy was always the place to go, it was the posh cinema compared to the other East End fleapits,” Melyvn assured me, speaking from experience and brimming with anticipation when I met him in the foyer, “My mother used to talk about how The Andrews Sisters once performed here.”
“I first came to The Troxy sixty years ago, yet I am still gobsmacked by it,” he confessed, as we entered the vast auditorium with its triumphantly-engineered curved circle that spans the width of the building without a single pillar to impede the view, “It was fifteen minutes walk from my home in Jane St, two minutes past Watney Market, and in those days there were toy shops and shops selling sweets in Commercial Rd. At half-term and school holidays, this was where you came.”
Feeling as small as ants, we walked forward beneath the balcony to reach the front of the stalls where the full height of the space became apparent, flanked with elaborate plasterwork motifs of waterfalls soaring on either side and theatrical sweeping staircases leading up towards the circle. “I’ve never been up there,” Melvyn admitted to me in a whisper, peering up into the gloom where rows of seats receded seemingly to infinity, “I’ve always been afraid of heights.” Emboldened to overcome this aversion, Melvyn and I scaled the stairs, ascending carefully like mountaineers to the top, so that Melvyn might survey the totality of his beloved Troxy and appreciate details of the plasterwork close up – such as the dense golden floral border, encrusted with daises and sunflowers, and the lisson figure of Terpsichore frolicking.
Melvyn remembers the years of decline when the Troxy operated as a bingo hall in the eighties. “My mother used to see all her neighbours coming here and say to me, ‘They’ll be short of rent money next week,” he confided to me, rolling his eyes in disapproval. Despite feeling more than a little proprietorial, Melvyn gave his blessing to the restoration including a colour scheme that casts the auditorium in tones of pale blue and lilac, highlighted with gold, conjuring the effect of a tropical undersea world.
“Whenever there is a fight night, I always see the boxers and their entourages come out of Limehouse Station at lunchtime and march down to the Troxy,” Melvyn informed me, ever-observant of all activity in the neighbourhood that he knows better than anyone else. It is not often in life that you can go back to a childhood location and not be disappointed, but Melvyn’s comment was indicative to me that now he has made his personal inspection of The Troxy and found it to his liking, he will return regularly.
Melvyn in the foyer
“it was the posh cinema…”
Golden floral border, encrusted with daises and sunflowers
Melvyn resplendent in the pink haze of the auditorium
Melvyn Reeves and Clark Gable
Melvyn outside the Troxy today
The Troxy when it first opened in 1933
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
You may like to read my original portrait of Melvyn