Hackney Empire Overview
The Hackney Empire is a theatre on Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney, built in 1901 as a music hall.
Hackney Empire is a grade II* listed building. The theatre was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham.
Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stanley Holloway, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd all performed there, when the Hackney Empire was a music hall.
ATV bought the theatre to use as studios in the 1950s, and shows such as Take Your Pick and Oh, Boy! were broadcast live. Some scenes from Emergency - Ward 10 were also filmed there. From 1963 to 1984 the theatre was used by the Mecca Organisation as a bingo hall.
In 1984, Mecca found the building too expensive to maintain as a bingo hall, and it was offered to C.A.S.T, a satirical touring theatre group, headed by Claire and Roland Muldoon, as a London base. They also mounted successful variety nights headlined by a new breed of alternative comedy acts, such as Ben Elton, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders.
The theatre was threatened with demolition, and in 1986, actor-manager Roland Muldoon mounted a campaign to acquire the freehold and to re-open the Hackney Empire as a permanent performance space; allowing the theatre to return to theatrical use for its 85th anniversary.
Ralph Fiennes played Hamlet to Francesca Annis's Gertrude in Jonathan Kent's Almeida Theatre Company production of Hamlet, 28 February – 30 March 1995; the production also transferred to the Belasco Theatre in New York.
Muldoon retired in 2005 and was replaced by Simon Thomsett as chief executive.
On 24 September 2009, it was announced that the theatre would close temporarily following its 2009 pantomime to allow a 'period of reflection' to consider its future direction and financial position.
Hackney Empire was a leading centre in the alternative comedy boom of the 1980s - Ben Elton, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Jeremy Hardy, Arthur Smith, Jo Brand, Harry Hill, Paul Merton, Harry Enfield, Alan Davies, Mark Linn-Baker, Bill Bailey, Russell Brand, Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Martha Lewis and Eve Polycarpo have all performed there, amongst many others.
Arthur Smith hosts the important annual Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition for up and coming stand-up comedy talent.
The refurbished Hackney Empire built in 1901, retains the original structure, but adds modern facilities (Sept 2005)
In 2001, the Empire closed for a £17 million refurbishment project designed by Tim Ronalds Architects with Carr and Angier acting as theatre consultants. It was reopened in 2004. The restoration included the addition of a 60-seat orchestra pit to make the Empire suitable for opera performance by companies such as English Touring Opera, the addition of a flytower with provision for counterweight flying. Among other new facilities were a studio theatre and educational and hospitality facilities, and greatly improved dressing rooms. Additionally the Marie Lloyd public house was incorporated into the new extension. In addition to Muldoon, the comedian Griff Rhys Jones led the restoration appeal, with a large donation coming from local businessman Sir Alan Sugar. It has produced an enormously successful and highly regarded panto since 1988.