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The rebuilt Hackney Empire gives London a new venue but the modern Hackney Empire has already had a massive impact on the capital and beyond…
In September 2004, the Hackney Empire celebrated the opening of the new annexe and the completion of an extensive, multi-million redevelopment project. The Empire's re-birth marks a new stage in its history allowing it to realise it potential as a leading, large and legendary venue for younger, aspirational Londoners with an interest in popular culture.
The Hackney Empire's programme is eclectic, always providing something modern, edgy and progressive - with everything from family shows to opera; from big name comedy acts to urban dance and from physical theatre to contemporary music; the result is a programme that brings a wide range of different people into the theatre. But don't just take our word for it…
-Griff Rhys Jones, Chairman of the Hackney Empire Appeal
"National Opera – abandoning the West End where her agenda of opera in English for ordinary people has been hijacked by the culturally-conscious middle classes. Here was a normal Hackney audience grasping the non-naturalistic energetic stagings in English of Magic Flute and Rigoletto"
-Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian
“Every time I've played there, it's been an absolute joy and has reminded me of why I do what I do
-Paul Merton, Comedian
"I was born just around the corner from the Hackney Empire. It was the first theatre I ever went to. It's a wonderful theatre. When I was a child I used to go to the music hall there with my parents and see Max Miller"
-Harold Pinter, playwright, actor and patron
"The Hackney Empire New Act of the Year contest has established a reputation for unearthing the finest rookie comedians in the London cabaret circuit and catapulting them into the public eye of television and nationwide touring"
-William Cook, The Guardian
"Hackney's exuberantly mulitcultured shows so lift the spirits. It also has a performance tradition second to none – from Chaplin, Laurel and Marie Lloyd to Harry Enfield, Paul Merton and Ralph Fiennes"
-Richard Morrison, The Times
The Story of the Hackney Empire and it's restoration by Griff Rhys Jones
1897 Oswald Stoll issues a prospectus. Fifty thousand pounds of share capital is needed to build the Hackney Empire. A pittance.
1900-1901 The Hackney Empire is built to a design by the great theatre architect Frank Matcham. The entire structure – paint, plasterwork, lighting and Euterpe, goddess of music – goes up in thirty eight weeks.
1901-1956 Fifty years hard work as a centre of live entertainment.
1956 Stoll Moss sells the place to ATV and the Empire becomes a television studio, where “Oh Boy” is recorded.
1960 Big plans to demolish the theatre to provide a car park.
1963 Mecca buy it and it becomes a bingo hall. Twenty years hard work as a bingo hall.
1978 Theatre exhausted. English heritage recognise its qualities as a heritage site.
1984 The authorities decide it is even better than they thought. They make it 'grade two stared'. This is a star too many for Mecca, who decide to sell.
1986 Enter Roland and Claire Muldoon and the remnants of C.A.S.T. 'It's about time we found ourselves a little theatre. Oh, look! 1300 seats. Just the ticket.' The 'Hackney Empire Preservation Trust' buy the Empire and start mounting shows. Theatre leaks… Fifteen years hard work as live theatre (music, comedy, talent shows, drama, opera, rock and roll, thriving hub of East End community, launch pad for Julian Clary etc…) Theatre even more exhausted.
1997 Money from Lottery allows the purchase of corner site. Corner pub helps subsides the least white, least middle class, least elitist, least heated and least well restored masterpiece of a venue in London. *FEBRUARY* Simon Thomsett and Roland Muldoon ambush Griff Rhys Jones in a café in Richmond.
1998 *FEBRUARY* Shoo-in Arts Council Lottery campaign begins. *SEPTEMBER* Lottery rejects application…'We don't need them' and other wild statements made. *OCTOBER* Dangerously optimistic fundraising campaign commences…Bold announcement 'Benefit Shows seem waste of time and energy.' Huge number of Benefit Shows held…Bloomberg give solid cash to fund Appeal Office on 'Mighty Oaks' principle…First Annual Art Auction held at which paintings practically given away by auctioneer, (Griff).
1999 'Not the Millennium' sarcastic brochure written by disgruntled writers and foisted on public at major Railway Stations…Heart of Hackney Single Regeneration Budget promises cash *SEPTEMBER* 'Empire Day' fills mare street with 4000 strong supportive rabble cheering on the project and offering advice. *WINTER* Early mornings throughout: Roland and Griff visit perplexed CEOs of important City Firms who make strange fish-like motions with their mouths…Enormous quantities of advice flow from all corners of the City…Tim Rolands' 'Optimistic Architects to the Performing Trades' appointed and vague planning applications. Sums of money washing around in fund tubs from Trusts, little old ladies, Griff etc…All down to stirling effort of two man team made up entirely of women, Hazel and Louise, A shining example to others. *DECEMBER* Prince Charles attends absurdly priced Cinderella fundraising night. 'We could have taken the children to Greece,' overheard at posh party…Sir Alan Sugar comes too and brings half his staff. (More enjoyable than Greece)…Roland and Griff eat large number if dinners on stage in the company of nervous millionaires who are given extended lecture and extemporised son et lumiere.
2000 Matching funds now in place. *SEPTEMBER* First of several days at Ascot Races for the 'Hackney Empire Stakes' dished up by Bloomberg. *CHRISTMAS* Sir Alan Sugar makes hugely generous financial offer.
2001 *JANUARY* Sir Alan Sugar persuaded to make even more hugely generous offer. *MARCH* The Heritage Lottery Fund put up a few million. *JULY* Arts Council up the ante. They pay up. Griff and Roland embarrassed…Roland Muldoon achieves life-time ambition and manages to close theatre down. Building work commences with all the money in place. The only theatre to do so. 'An exemplary project,' say Arts Council. *DECEMBER* Builders trail muddy boots through theatre.
2002 *MARCH* Dismayed by news that the whole place was originally built in thirty eight weeks, builders decide to take at least two years to make a few changes. *JULY* Colour Scheme finalised. Theatre meets rainbow commitment. Roland to stay red. *SEPTEMBER* Finish point passes without finish. *DECEMBER* Police snipers commandeer crane. Perfect site for headline-grabbing Hackney Siege.
2003 *JANUARY* Siege continues. Small children given armed guard to Bullion Room performances…Instead of building theatre, builders pretend to audition for The Sopranos. *JULY* Builders go spectacularly belly-up. Despair. *AUGUST* Loyal supporters send funds. Hope. *DECEMBER* Simon Thomsett leads triumphant rear guard action, rallies workmen, implores Lottery bodies and Arts Councils, summons up will and struggles through to (almost) final hurdle. Gets extra cup of tea.
2004 Main House restoration done and dusted. But vital spaces – education room, hospitality room and public bar – remain undone. Tracey Emin draws attention to this fact with some nuclear neon. Meanwhile, seats go in and doors open.
2005 *NOVEMBER* Sir Alan Sugar challenges teams in the City to raise money for theatre. JP Morgan Asset Management raises £100 000 in just one night. *DECEMBER* Roland and Claire Muldoon step down after 10 years hard graft. Tears are shed. Simon Thomsett assumes the helm.
2006 the shows and the Appeal go on …