Developments at “Theatre at Risk” Hulme Hippodrome

Hulme Hippodrome is unlikely to last much longer without major interventions.

Those in Manchester City Council responsible for protecting listed buildings have written to the unresponsive owners of Hulme Hippodrome insisting on urgent repair works. If repairs are not carried out then the Council has powers to do the works itself, charge the owners, and has powers to start proceedings for compulsory purchase, which would be a good thing all round in my opinion.

Meanwhile, the lively and committed campaign group Save Hulme Hippodrome have been doing some interesting research on the building’s architect.

Here’s what they found. Manchester-born multi-talented John Joseph Alley began his architectural career in his mid-50’s & was 70 before he described himself as architect. He received little architectural training. Working exclusively for WH Broadhead he designed 12 theatres in Manchester, including the Hulme Hippodrome.

Born in Chorlton-on-Medlock, JJ Alley son of John Alley, decorator & his wife Mary. Jobs inc. Lecturer of Polygraphy (printing multiple colours simultaneously); sign-writer; consulting & practical decorator & sign-writer; topographical antiquarian & scientific draughtsman, librarian & book seller, journalist, Lecturer and Public Reader, Topographic Antiquarian & Scientific Draughtsman & Modeller; journalist; illustrative journalist. He gives “Architect” as his occupation in the 1911 census, taken a year before his death.

Whatever his passions or qualifications, he produced many fine buildings of which Hulme Hippodrome is one of the last remaining examples, and should be brought back into public use as soon as possible.


Around the World in theatres, anyone?

Where is this? Yes, it’s the Royal Opera House, but it’s not Covent Garden. Got it yet? Maybe not – because this Royal Opera House is in Mumbai!

Enjoy an online afternoon treat coming up on Thursday 25th November at 4pm UK time, as Terry Davis, Archivist of the Frank Matcham Society, gives a free online Zoom talk about his globe-trotting theatre experiences, assisted by technical whiz Richard Norman.

Terry’s theatre travels have, over many years, taken him right around the Globe. His talk with illustrations brings about a dozen examples of differing venues with many surprises, some even hilarious. His photo collection, aided by some movies, certainly shows that going to the theatre in distant countries offers a very different cultural experience to what we are accustomed to in the UK. Returning home, his closing surprise is to show us an opera house discovery situated in the Midlands that is loosely modelled on Glyndebourne.

Book your free tickets to this theatrical treat via TicketSource here


Dudley Council celebrates LoveTheatreDay by voting to demolish its only professional theatre

Dudley Hippodrome interior

17th November was “Love Theatre Day” around the world, and huge numbers of theatres, theatre owners, creatives and local authorities took to social media to celebrate their creative community hubs and the pleasure, stimulation and community cohesion they bring.

Everywhere in the world was out celebrating these jewels in their communities.

All, that is, except Dudley.

This was the day when the hopelessly out of touch Dudley Council’s planning committee met to nod through the application for demolition of their only remaining professional theatre in the area. The destruction of a community-owned building sitting in a Conservation Area on land gifted to the people of Dudley. In one vote the Council members took the assets of the community away and voted to destroy them.

In a meeting described by one attendee as “an unmitigated shambles”, committee members wandered back and forth, engaging in side discussions, rarely giving any speakers or objector their full attention. Tom Clarke of the Theatres Trust had kindly agreed to step up and speak for the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust, the passionate and committed Hippodrome supporters group which is trying to retain, refurbish and reopen this vital community resource, only to be ignored by substantial numbers of those of the committee present.

Worse still, the owner of the adjacent business, Mr Gurminder Singh, which has been running successfully as a function hall, was given no opportunity to speak to save his business into which he has poured his family’s investment and his own life savings into,. This is Council dealings at their shabbiest.

The outcome of the decision is far from unexpected. Only one councillor voted against the demolition, and for that we thank her (I cannot find her name at present but will update when I find it).

The decision now goes to Michael Gove (!?!) for oversight, so we won’t hold our breath on that one…

But the fight is far from over, and the supporters now regroup to consider their next moves. As Sue Bolton, one of the leading lights of the campaign to save the theatre, said, “It’s not over until the lady sings”

Theatres Trust later said: “We are extremely disappointed in the decision by Dudley Council to give planning permission for the demolition of Dudley Hippodrome. A wasted opportunity to reimagine a heritage asset as a catalyst for growth.”

You can read the Theatres Trust’s full statement here

Here is the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust’s full report about how the meeting was conducted:

“Because of poor acoustics and poor microphones, we are unsure who presented the council’s application to demolish the theatre. After reading out from the documents for quite a while he then referred to an animated “fly through” video on screen, which did not work. After several failed attempts to get it to work, our one and only permitted objector was called up to speak while further attempts were made.

While the objector, Tom Clarke, the National Planning Adviser from Theatres Trust, who had travelled up from London was speaking to the committee, someone got up and walked directly across the room, distracting Mr Clarke, to speak to the tech guy. There was chatting on the top table and then another councillor got up to join the conversation with the tech guy! It was clear committee members had not read the documentation beforehand as they were reading it rather than listening. We were appalled at that moment.

Following this, DMBC not only got its planning agent to speak, but then got another further chance (at length) to recommend demolition! Our objector had just 3 minutes. A second objector, Mr G. Singh, whose livelihood has been ruined by Metro works and a probable CPO was not permitted to speak despite several requests to allow him to, as an exception. Other councils allow up to 15 speakers.

It was obvious to the observers from the start that the decision had been made before the meeting as not one objection was even mentioned, discussed or argued, particularly regarding the National Planning Policy Framework.

Dudley Council was seeking its own planning permission to demolish a heritage asset, which it owns, to be replaced by something that Dudley council proposes, without proper consultation with the electorate.

There were numerous quality robust objections from Theatres Trust, The C20 Society, Historic Buildings and Places, Save Britain’s Heritage and even the Art Deco Society UK. There were even strong objections from David Ward, The Earl of Dudley, Leander Ward, heir to the title and Tracy Ward, the Duchess of Beaufort.

Our opinion is that DMBC presented false information and photoshopped images to persuade councillors, who were clearly unable to get to Castle Hill and A461 Birmingham Road to see how visible the Castle is from that direction. The image of the new building appeared shrunk and the views presented as if a vistor would arrive on the top of a double decker bus.

The whole case was treated like it was an application for an extension. There should be no need to present false images if the project is worth doing.

Historic England have admitted that their analysis of the scheme had been concluded from information provided, yet the council ‘padded’ this out to about 20 pages from an initial A4 size appraisal, without Historic England visiting the site or looking inside either building.

Are you shocked ??

You decide……….”

I know what I think. How about You?


West End’s ex-Saville Theatre purchase strengthens hope for theatre return

Odeon Covent Garden, ex-Saville Theatre (photo courtesy David Simpson)

A company called Yoo Capital has bought the Odeon (ex-Saville Theatre in the West End for around £30million, it was recently announced.

Opened in 1931, designed by the noted firm of T P Bennett & Sons, the originally 1400-seater mid-sized venue was in theatrical use until 1970, when it was remodeled as a twin-screen cinema, split horizontally, as which it continues today.

Thankfully Camden Council rejected several recent attempts to get permission to gut the building for a 90+ room hotel adding extra floors to the building. A recent inspection showed that there was much more of the original interior still existing than originally thought, with quite possibly more to be uncovered as the 70s additions are stripped away.

This is the second time that we have heard of Yoo Capital in relation to London theatre; they are also one of the investors behind the new complex at Olympia which will build a large, brand new theatre which Trafalgar Entertainment will lease. Interesting too that Trafalgar have expressed interest in the Saville building before, so this may signal that the renovation of the Saville may well be run by Trafalgar.

The most easily appreciated original elements are on the original facade which has an incredibly detailed bas-relief frieze by sculptor Gilbert Bayes. Measuring 129 feet in length, depicting ‘Drama Through the Ages’ with representations of ‘St. Joan’, ‘Imperial Roman Triumphal Procession’, ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘War Plays’ etc. Sections of this frieze were displayed at the Royal Academy in 1930-1931, prior to their installation on the building. Along the top of the façade are a series of plaques, again sculpted by Gilbert Bayes, which represent ‘Art Through the Ages’.

This lengthy, arresting frieze remains intact and is Grade II listed.

Original auditorium of the Saville Theatre in 1931. Courtesy Martin Clark, via Ken Roe

No doubt we will hear more about this interesting development in the months ahead.


Celebrating painter Walter Sickert’s theatricality in subject and expression

Detail from Gallery of the Old Bedford Theatre, by Walter Sickert

Here’s a great article from the Liverpool Museums website about the great painter Walter Sickert and the theatricality which suffused his paintings. Early training and experience as an actor gave him access to the Music Halls and theatres of his day, and his appreciation for the qualities of light and drama and their ability to highlight the complex relationship between performers and audience inform his work to a significant extent.

Junxia Wang, the author of the piece, is a History of Art PhD student at University of York. Her article is well worth a read.

You can find it here