As part of Open House London I also went on a tour of the Hackney Empire, another Frank Matcham theatre. Hackney as a borough dates from Anglo-Saxon times, and as the Regents Canal and the railways made it busier and more popular, a theatre seemed like a good choice for the location. In 1898, Sir Oswald Stoll and Edward Moss merged their theatre manager businesses to form Stoll Moss Empires; by 1905 nearly every large town in Great Britain had an Empire or Coliseum theatre. Stoll commissioned Frank Matcham to design and build the Hackney Empire in 1901. It was built in 38 weeks at a cost of £65,000. A Grade II listed building, it seats 1,300 for theatre and 1,700 for concerts.
The theatre was used as a television studio in the 1950s and 1960s, and was subsequently turned into a bingo hall by Mecca. It was saved from demolition in 1986 and went on to be a notable alternative comedy venue, before closing for restoration in 2002. The restored theatre still has the original terracotta façades, the original canopy and the domes, but it also uses the space formerly occupied by the Britannia pub on the corner, offering greater disabled access and more space in general.
I have been to the Hackney Empire on a number of occasions and it’s one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve ever been in. Like Richmond, this theatre was built with steel cantilevers ensuring that supporting pillars were not needed in the auditorium. The views are generally good, even at the top, and I’ve also found the ushers and the bar staff to be among the friendliest I’ve come across. I definitely recommend this theatre: for the architecture and for the shows.