- Original design
- Frank Matcham, 1901
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
Hackney Empire is a special building in a special place – a unique variety theatre for the 21st century. Embracing both local and global communities of artists and audiences, it is determined to nurture and present work that is at once extraordinary, inclusive, inspirational and transformative. Musical theatre and opera, family shows (including the annual sell-out pantomime thought by many to be the best in London), music and comedy together with local events and an extensive and inclusive programme of workshops and courses, form the heart of the Hackney Empire’s work.
Public subsidy provides just 15 per cent of the Hackney Empire’s turnover with the remainder needing to come from earned and fundraised income. Hackney Empire is driven by its core values of Quality, Diversity and Engagement, which underpin everything the Empire does.
Visit hackneyempire.co.uk for more information on our full programme and how you can help support us.
Hackney dates from Anglo Saxon times and became a retreat from the busy and overcrowded City of London. The village was long and scattered, with houses lining the road from Mile End via Cambridge Heath (now Mare Street) and north to Stamford Hill.
In the 17th-18th centuries Hackney was regarded as particularly healthy and agreeable. It had a reputation for pleasurable activities the Mermaid Tavern at 364 Mare Street was frequented by Pepys and had two bowling greens.
The building of the Regents Canal (1820) and the arrival of the Railways (1850-70) lead to the development of both industry and housing, and pleasure and market gardens were built over.
In 1801 Hackney's population was 12,730, by 1871 was 115,000 and by 1901 was over 219,000. In 1901, clothes and footwear manufacture employed over 15,000 men and women, and there were over 900 women employed as artificial flower makers.
Sir Oswald Stoll was a successful theatre manager who merged his business with Edward Moss, one of his competitors, to form Stoll Moss Empires in 1898. By 1905, almost every large town in Great Britain had an Empire or a Coliseum theatre, managed by Stoll Moss.
Stoll commissioned Frank Matcham to design and build the Hackney Empire, planning to use it as his HQ (the Coliseum was chosen in the end). It was built in 1901, in 38 weeks and cost £65,000.
Hackney Empire is a Grade ll* listed building and is one of the largest theatres in London with 1,300 seats for theatre and 1,700 seats for a concert (the original capacity in 1901 was 2,800 with much narrower seats).
Matcham was the greatest theatre architect of his day although he had no training as one. In London alone, he designed the Hippodrome (1900; revamped 1909 capacity 1340), London Coliseum (1904; 2359 originally 2558); London Palladium (1910; 2286); Victoria Palace (1911; 1550).
He was among first to use steel cantilevers so balconies could be built without the need to have pillars supporting each tier. This gave improved sightlines and increased audience capacity.
With the death of variety in the 1950s and 60s the theatre was used as a television studio for ATV where many hit shows were recorded. It was then bought by Mecca and became a bingo hall.
In 1986 the Empire was saved from demolition, and bought by the Hackney Preservation Trust to become a theatre once again. In the 1980s it was one of the first alternative comedy venues.
In 2002 the theatre was closed for restoration. The theatre was built around the Britannia pub on the corner, which was rebuilt in 1954 after WW2 bombing. As the new pub was not listed it was knocked down and rebuilt as a café. The refurbishment cost of £17 million and was completed with help from Lord Alan Sugar, who also opened the restored theatre.