Date: 28 September 1997
Originally published in: The Independent (UK)
Written by: Maggie O'Farrell
Date of Birth: 1901.
Brief History: born in the era of the Moss-Stoll theatre monopoly, the Empire became an essential stop on the variety touring circuit for stars of the Twenties and Thirtes. It did its bit for the Home Front by carrying on with business as usual during both World Wars.
Strange but true: rumoured to be home to not only a clutch of thespian ghosts but, more bizarrely, the dressing-room in which Kim Wilde was conceived.
The Building: providing the Lottery coughs up the desired pounds 21 million, Frank Matcham’s ornate, baroque, be-curlicued walls are due for a face lift and – like Marty Wilde – an offspring, the Hackney Empire II. Let’s hope for a museum-type installation of the dressing room with “The Kids in America” playing on a loop tape.
Events: variety is the spice of life and the name of the game and the score on the door and . . . er . . .so on: the Moldovian Opera, late-night comedy, and, of course, pantomimes, engineered to torture parents and revive the flagging careers of soap stars and sports “personalities”. The small studio theatre next door, known as “The Lookout”, specialises in “new experimental plays and physical theatre” – now there’s variety for you.
Tickets: tickets range from pounds 5 to pounds 18.50. All bookings on 0181 985 2424.
Recommended seats: the circle for plays, the stalls for variety acts.
Landmark Productions: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin have played here; more recently, Ralph Fiennes’s Hamlet caused a stir when seats to see le Patient as the grumpy adolescent Dane sold out within hours.
Up and coming events: Harry Hill (and suit) on 15 October.
Transport: in the tubeless nether region that is Hackney, buses are your best option; or the North London line to Hackney Central BR station.
Where to meet: there’s a bar on each floor.
Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 1.80. Maggie O’Farrell