Interior, showing a box and the stage, of the Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester

Interior, showing a box and the stage, of the Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester

Walter Bayes was a founding, but minor, member of the Camden Town Group, and this watercolour in particular demonstrates his debt to the group's leader, Walter Sickert. Music hall and theatre interiors were a favourite subject of Sickert, but whereas he preferred to concentrate on the eerie effects of flaring gas jets on the faces of performers and audience members, Bayes's pale watercolour tones emphasise the blazing lights and sparkling surfaces of the pink, white, and gilt decor of this Edwardian theatre. This, the second of two views he painted of this theatre interior, is dominated by the elaborate shell and pearl motif above the stage. The decoration pays tribute to local pride -- Colchester has long been known for its oysters. The Old Grand Theatre opened in Colchester in 1905, as the Grand Palace of Varieties. By the time Bayes painted this scene, the theatre was nearing the end of its existence as a venue for live performance. Many Victorian and Edwardian theatres were lost to dereliction and postwar development, but the Old Grand Theatre was relatively lucky: it became in turn a cinema and a bingo hall, before being restored inside and out in the 1980s and given a new lease on life as a nightclub.