Hackney Empire: still beautiful after 120 years

Hackney Empire

Hackney Empire - Credit: Mark Senior

New photographs reveal the Edwardian splendour of Hackney Empire as it marks its 120th anniversary with a sponsor a seat campaign.

Artistic Director Yamin Choudury has planned a year of special shows and events to mark the birthday of the beautiful playhouse, which reopened last September after a year's closure.

Frank Matcham, the most famous of London's theatre designers, is responsible for the Coliseum, Palladium, Victoria Palace and Hippodrome - with the Grade II* listed Hackney Empire considered one of his finest. When it opened, it's red, gold and velvet interior with electric chandeliers was described by the Hackney Gazette as having "an air of almost Oriental splendour."

Hackney Empire

The Grade II* listed theatre was designed by Frank Matcham also responsible for the Palladium and Coliseum - Credit: Mark Senior

Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Stan Laurel, Liberace, Julie Andrews and Tony Hancock all played there when it was a music hall. In the 50s and 60s it was owned by ATV and episodes of Opportunity Knocks and Take Your Pick were broadcast live from its stage.

It then spent two decades as a bingo hall before satirical theatre group CAST took over, making the Empire home to a new generation of alternative comics including Ben Elton, French and Saunders and Lenny Henry. After being saved from demolition in 1986 - and a multi-million pound refurb in the early noughties - it has hosted a vibrant programme of entertainment from top comedians, to opera, the RSC, and the much-loved annual pantomime.

To mark the anniversary, sponsors are invited to support the Empire's work by naming one of 120 seats in the auditorium with a £500 plaque.

Hackney Empire

Hackney Empire - Credit: Mark Senior

Choudury said: “As a registered charity Hackney Empire depends on the support of those who love it, and we’re excited to be giving people the opportunity to dedicate a seat in our beautiful auditorium. Everything we raise through the 120 Seats Campaign will help ensure that Hackney Empire remains at the heart of all its communities for generations to come.”

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Hackney-born singer and patron Leona Lewis said: “It's incredible to think that Hackney Empire is still right at the heart of the community entertaining, and importantly inspiring people after 120 years. I couldn’t be prouder of supporting its work with young people in this special anniversary year."

Hackney Empire

The Hackney Empire first opened its doors in 1901 and is celebrating its 120th year - Credit: Mark Senior

For more information hackneyempire.co.uk/membership-support/dedicate-a-seat/