Many of London’s restaurants, bars and galleries are preparing to reopen, but for theatres, which rely on bringing large numbers of people together under one roof, the reality is very different. At Hackney Empire, box office revenue makes up 85 percent of the theatre’s funding, and the ongoing impact of lockdown has had a catastrophic effect on its finances. It is one of the many London theatres for which closure is a very real and imminent threat.
The venue is almost 120 years old, an impressive building with a music hall-era design full of plush Rococo flair, created by architect Frank Matcham. It was one of the first theatres in London to have electric lighting when it was built in 1901. Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Julie Andrews all performed there. Today, it released an official crowdfund with a goal of £50,000 to ensure the theatre will be able to reopen its doors.
It’s not the first time the Hackney Empire has been in trouble. The theatre enjoyed huge success as a music hall, and in the 1950s, the theatre stage was used as a recording space for BBC shows like ‘Opportunity Knocks’. But it was later sold to Mecca and was set to become a bingo hall, until the company decided it was too expensive to run. The theatre faced demolition in 1986, but was saved by a campaign run by actor Roland Muldoon.
In recent years, the Hackney Empire has been a spectacular space for comedy gigs, TedX talks, dance performances and contemporary theatre, and places a huge emphasis on productions for young people. Each year the Hackney Empire: Creative Futures programme works with more than 4,000 14- to 25-year olds from the surrounding areas to foster the talent of emerging artists and entrepreneurs.
The Hackney Empire crowdfund was launched by Olivier Award-winning actor Clive Rowe, a Hackney Empire patron who is well known for his panto performances at the theatre (you might also recognise him as Norman ‘Duke’ Ellington from ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’). ‘Hackney Empire is an incredibly special place for me,’ said Rowe. ‘It brings people and communities together like no other venue I’ve experienced and its atmosphere is legendary. Generations of children have had their first experience of live entertainment at its panto and its work with young people has transformed thousands of lives. Theatres have been hit incredibly hard by lockdown, but a world without them is unimaginable. Places like Hackney Empire must survive, and you can help to make sure they do.’
If you can, open your purse to support Hackney Empire by contributing to the crowdfund here.
For other ways you can watch plays while London’s in lockdown, click here.
Find out when London’s theatres might open again.