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Ally Pally’s theatre is reopening at last, and it’s a total beaut

By Alice Saville
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After 80 years under wraps, Ally Pally’s huge and beautiful theatre space is back in action. More properly known as Alexandra Palace, it’s a venue with a fascinating history. When its theatre first opened in 1875, it dazzled Victorian audiences with some of the most advanced technical wizardry in the world, making performers soar through the air or disappear in a puff of smoke. But as Alexandra Palace’s fortunes changed, the theatre fell out of use. During WWI, it was used as a chapel as Alexandra Palace became first a refugee centre, then an internment camp. Ally Pally went on to become the headquarters of the BBC, and the theatre had the indignity of becoming a prop store, before finally being left empty.

But now, things are looking up. The theatre’s National Lottery-funded renovation has been overseen by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. They've decided to embrace the space’s crumbling splendour by revealing its original Victorian bricks, delicate paintwork and tarnished gilt flourishes – a light-touch approach that's also been used in recently restored London gems Battersea Arts Centre and Wilton’s Music Hall.

The ceiling of Ally Pally's newly renovated theatre
© Keith Armstrong

Running from December 1-16, Alexandra Palace’s Christmas Carnival offers a chance to see their handiwork for yourself. The festivities include free tours of the theatre on Saturday and Sunday (December 1-2). The likewise newly renovated East Court will be on show too, featuring a display on the venue’s history, alongside free singing workshops, fairground rides, market stalls and bags of festive atmosphere. Or see the theatre in action by booking a ticket to its first big show, ‘Horrible Christmas’, which is a night of suitably historical mayhem by the ‘Horrible Histories’ gang. 

For more theatre shows that’ll float your festive boat, check out our guide to Christmas shows in London.

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