Hackney Empire

The Hackney Empire is a theatre on Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney, built in 1901 as a music hall.

Hackney Empire
Hackney Empire
LocationMare Street Hackney Central
London, E8
United Kingdom
Coordinates51.5455°N 0.0555°W / 51.5455; -0.0555
Public transit Hackney Central
OwnerHackney Empire Trust
DesignationGrade II*
TypeFormer music hall
ProductionVisiting productions
Opened1901 (1901)
Closed1956–62 television studio
1963–86 bingo hall
Rebuilt2004 (Tim Ronalds Architects)
ArchitectFrank Matcham


Hackney Empire is a grade II* listed building. The theatre was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham.

Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stanley Holloway, Stan Laurel, Marie Lloyd and Julie Andrews all performed there, when the Hackney Empire was a music hall.

ATV bought the theatre to use as studios in the 1950s, and shows such as Take Your Pick and Oh, Boy! were broadcast live. Certain episodes of Opportunity Knocks were also filmed at the theatre. Some scenes from Emergency - Ward 10 were also filmed there. From 1963 to 1984 the theatre was used by the Mecca Organisation as a bingo hall.

In 1984, Mecca found the building too expensive to maintain as a bingo hall, and it was offered to C.A.S.T, a satirical touring theatre group, headed by Claire and Roland Muldoon, as a London base. They also mounted successful variety nights headlined by a new breed of alternative comedy acts, such as Ben Elton, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders.

The theatre was threatened with demolition, and in 1986, actor-manager Roland Muldoon mounted a campaign to acquire the freehold and to re-open the Hackney Empire as a permanent performance space; allowing the theatre to return to theatrical use for its 85th anniversary.

Ralph Fiennes played Hamlet to Francesca Annis's Gertrude in Jonathan Kent's Almeida Theatre Company production of Hamlet, 28 February – 30 March 1995; the production also transferred to the Belasco Theatre in New York City. In 1996 mime/choreographer Lindsay Kemp premiered Variete', his first British production in over 20 years, there and Slava's Snow Show, the famous Russian clown, played the theatre several times.

Muldoon retired in 2005 and was replaced by Simon Thomsett as chief executive.

On 24 September 2009, it was announced that the theatre would close temporarily following its 2009 pantomime to allow a "period of reflection" to consider its future direction and financial position.[1]

Stand-up comedy

Hackney Empire was a leading centre in the alternative comedy boom of the 1980s – Frankie Boyle, Jack Whitehall, Jo Brand, Russell Brand, John Cleese, Jackie Clune, Greg Davies, Felix Dexter, Ben Elton, Harry Enfield, Craig Ferguson, Dawn French, Jeremy Hardy, Lenny Henry, Bill Hicks, Harry Hill, Mark Linn-Baker, Martha Lewis and Eve Polycarpo, Paul Merton, Jennifer Saunders, Arthur Smith, Mark Steel and Tim Vine are just some of the comedians who have performed there.

Modern times

In 2001, the Empire closed for a £17 million refurbishment project designed by Tim Ronalds Architects with Carr and Angier acting as theatre consultants.[2] It was reopened in 2004. The restoration included the addition of a 60-seat orchestra pit to make the Empire suitable for opera performance by companies such as English Touring Opera, the addition of a flytower with provision for counterweight flying and a reduction of the stage rake from 1 in 24 to 1 in 30. Among other new facilities were a studio theatre and educational and hospitality facilities, and greatly improved dressing rooms.

Additionally the Marie Lloyd public house was incorporated into the new extension. In addition to Muldoon, the comedian Griff Rhys Jones led the restoration appeal, with a large donation coming from local businessman Alan Sugar. It has produced an enormously successful and highly regarded panto since 1988. The John Bishop Show was presented and recorded at the Hackney Empire, and has aired on BBC One, 30 May 2015 – 18 July 2015.[3] Since 2014 The British Soap Awards have also been filmed at the Hackney Empire.



The area is served by buses to some parts of London; the nearest station is Hackney Central on the North London Line. However there is no Tube station within miles and the local Council imposes parking fees until well in the evening.


  • Official website
  • History of the Hackney Empire with archive images
  • Collection of Hackney Empire Playbill Posters from the University of East London's Theatre Archive
  • Guide to British Theatres 1750–1950, John Earl and Michael Sell pp. 114 (Theatres Trust, 2000) ISBN 0-7136-5688-3
  • Griff Rhys Jones – Hackney Empire – Art and Architecture
  • Historic England. "Photograph and details from listed building text (1226960)". National Heritage List for England.
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