On show will be one of the theatre’s biggest successes, Slava’s Snowshow, which stars the Russian clown Slava Polunin. Its 1988 debut has been followed by a West End season and a world tour; a first New York showing is due in spring 2004 to be followed by a North American tour. The physical theatre-cum-mime-cum-circus experience features much-talked about images, such as the spinning of a web that covers most of the audience.
The Hackney Empire first opened in 1901 and was home to many of the legendary names of music hall, including Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd. But the costs of running such a large theatre — it seats over 2,000 people — the disadvantages of being in East London’s Hackney (as opposed to the center of London) as well as the gradual death of music hall conspired to bring about financial difficulties. In the 1950’s the Empire was bought by a television company, ATV, becoming the UK’s first commercial TV studios. A slightly less dignified Hackney Empire came later, as the studios were turned into a bingo hall. It wasn’t until 1986 that the Empire became a theatre once more, showcasing actors like Ralph Fiennes (who played Hamlet there). And, given its money troubles in the past, there were some who feared that its closure in 2001 would be permanent.
The next company due to perform on the renovated stage will be Ellen Kent and Opera International, who will bring their successful production of Puccini’s Tosca on Sunday, Feb. 9 and will return later in 2004.
The refurbishment was carried out by Tim Ronalds Architects, and was made possible by £15 million from a fundraising campaign led by comedian Griff Rhys Jones. There is, however, still work to be done with funds still needed for the completion of the Marie Lloyd bar and education and hospitality suites.
For more information visit www.hackneyempire.co.uk.