Hackney Empire is a grade II* listed building. The theatre was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham.
Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stanley Holloway, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd all performed there, when the Hackney Empire was a music hall.
ATV bought the theatre to use as studios in the 1950s, and shows such as Take Your Pick and Oh, Boy! were broadcast live. Certain episodes of Opportunity Knocks were also filmed at the theatre. From 1963 to 1984 the theatre was used by the Mecca Organisation as a bingo hall.
In 1984, Mecca found the building too expensive to maintain as a bingo hall, and it was offered to C.A.S.T, a satirical touring theatre group, headed by Claire and Roland Muldoon, as a London base. They also mounted successful variety nights headlined by a new breed of alternative comdy acts. Hackney Empire was a leading centre in the alternative comedy boom of the 1980s - Ben Elton, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Jo Brand, Harry Hill, Paul Merton, Harry Enfield, Lenny Henry, Russell Brand, have all performed there, amongst many others
The theatre was threatened with demolition, and in 1986, actor-manager Roland Muldoon mounted a campaign to acquire the freehold and to re-open the Hackney Empire as a permanent performance space; allowing the theatre to return to theatrical use for its 85th anniversary.
Ralph Fiennes played Hamlet to Francesca Annis's Gertrude in Jonathan Kent's Almeida Theatre Company production of Hamlet, 28 February – 30 March 1995; the production also transferred to the Belasco Theatre in New York.
In 2001, the Empire closed for a £17 million refurbishment project designed by Tim Ronalds Architects with Carr and Angier acting as theatre consultants. It was reopened in 2004. The restoration included the addition of a 60-seat orchestra pit to make the Empire suitable for opera performance by companies such as English Touring Opera. Among other new facilities were a studio theatre and educational and hospitality facilities, and greatly improved dressing rooms. In addition to Muldoon, the comedian Griff Rhys Jones led the restoration appeal, with a large donation coming from local businessman Sir Alan Sugar.
To this day Hackney Empire is a charity founded by the residents of Hackney who were anxious to preserve this beautiful building and ensure the communities of East London could access the very best of performing arts.
Today Hackney Empire enjoys great success and delivers a wide variety of performances Opera, Film, Comedy and Theatre as well as Creative Programs for students and the community.
It's important to recognise the history of this wonderful building, the impact it had in its early music hall days as well as later in taking risks with alternative comedy and now providing performing arts to East London and to make sure that it continues into the future.
Please check out their website for What's On at the moment.