Hackney Empire to re-open in September 2003

Hackney Empire to re-open in September 2003

The Hackney Empire Theatre, in east London, will re-open in September 2003, following its £15 million redevelpment.

Following the Hackney Empire Appeal Campaign led by Griff Rhys Jones which raised £15 million, the theatre initiated a major programme of redevelopment and extensive restoration of the facilities, whilst preserving the original features that made it one of the most popular venues in London.

Major elements of the overhaul include the creation of a new orchestra pit which will accommodate up to 60 musicians; the construction of a new backstage block incorporating dressing rooms and a flytower; improved access for people with disabilities and new education and hospitality spaces.

Roland Muldoon, Artistic Director of the Hackney Empire says, "It's always been our intention to create a truly popular theatre, one that challenges conventions and expectations, where grand opera and world drama can happily play alongside pantomime, Jamaican farce and stand up comedy."

Elmina's Kitchen which opened recently to critical acclaim at the National Theatre will transfer to The Hackney Empire on 8th Sep 03, marking the launch of a season whose highlights will include a line-up of celebrity supporters at the Hackney Empire Re-opening Gala on 28 September, Peter Hall's production of As You Like It and the world premiere of the Mozart's previously unfinished opera Zaide directed by Jude Kelly and performed by the Classical Opera Company. Pantomime will make a welcome return after an absence of two years with Clive Rowe starring as Aladdin throughout the Christmas season.

Designed by architect Frank Matcham, the Hackney Empire is considered one of Matcham's finest buildings. It Originally opened in 1901. Modelled on the designs of Italian opera houses and lavishly decorated in Rococo style, the theatre attracted the most celebrated entertainers of the day such as Stan Laurel, Charlie Chaplin, W.C Fields and Marie Lloyd (The Queen of the Halls) who all performed there before the First World War.

In 1986 the theatre was acquired by Roland Muldoon, the current artistic director, and his touring theatre group, CAST. The Hackney Empire has since provided unique forms of entertainment that reflect the diversity and rich cultural history of the local population. In recent years the theatre has served as a springboard for comedians such as Alan Davies, Jo Brand, Richard Blackwood, Lily Savage, Paul Merton and Harry Enfield and has led the way in developing a new wave of black entertainment through the appearance of The 291 Club, whilst also staging drama productions which have included Ralph Fiennes' Hamlet, accessible opera productions and, of course, hugely popular family pantomimes.

In 2001, Griff Rhys Jones, the Chairman of the Fundraising Appeal, was able to announce that the Empire had raised £15 million to renovate the building: including £5 million from the Arts Council of England, £3.85 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £3.2 million from Heart of Hackney SRB, £0.75 million from London Development Agency, £1.3 million from Sir Alan Sugar as well as a range of trusts and foundations who donated over £0.75 million.

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