It 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 – added to 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 including 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. However, the day is almost here and Jan. 28 will see a celebratory re-opening with Slava’s Snowshow. The first company thereafter to perform on the renovated stage will be Ellen Kent and Opera International, who will bring their successful production of Puccini’s Tosca on 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(http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/).