The Bomb at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

When war broke out in September 1939, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane was requisitioned to become the headquarters of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). This organisation was dedicated to entertaining allied troops with a variety of plays and revues. Dressing rooms were used as offices and the stage hosted rehearsals and auditions, all throughout the war years.

At around 11.55pm on 15 October 1940, a high explosive German bomb hit the rear circle causing damage and a fire- although thankfully it did not explode and was defused. Considerable damage was sustained to the circle with debris all around; the fire brigade extinguished the fire. Theatre workers who were asleep in the area where the bomb fell thankfully escaped with only minor injuries.

1940 Bomb Map: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Copyright Westminster City Archives

Eventually the Theatre Royal was restored and reopened to audiences on 19 December 1946, to resume its place as one of the nation’s most treasured musical houses.

The casing of the bomb was later mounted and notated, as you can see in the photo above, and has spent many years sitting in a corner of the corridor that leads to the Royal Circle Boxes (Prince’s Side), usually passing unnoticed to most who wander by on their way to the boxes, bar or toilets.

But for those of us who passed it every day whilst working there, it is a timely reminder to treasure this building, and but for a twist of fate we might have lost this priceless central jewel in London’s theatre crown.

Burnley Empire Theatre sold for £1; gets another chance at life

The Burnley Empire starts along the road to recovery. Photo courtesy Mark Salmon

East Lancashire’s last surviving Victorian theatre, the Grade II listed Burnley Empire, has been bought by a supporters group with the intention to bring it back to life after almost 25 years of neglect.

Opened in 1894, the 1200-seater venue lasted for 101 years as a theatre, cinema, and then bingo hall, until closing in 1995.

Previous owners the Duchy of Lancaster sold the building to the Trust for £1.

Since 1995, the building has slowly decayed, not helped by an arson attack and the deterioration of the building’s roof. The theatre has accordingly been on the Theatres Trust’s annual Theatres At Risk Register for many years.

The new owners, Burnley Empire Limited, operating through the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT) have made their first priority to make the building weather-tight and then to commence plans for restoration.

Let’s wish them well for the revival of this prized community asset and an historic part of Burnley’s social fabric. And if you live locally, please give a hand, if you can, to bring this sleeping beauty back to life.

Learn more about the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust here

Learn more about the excellent work of the Theatres Trust and their Theatres at Risk Register here

A trip to EartH

EartH arts centre in Hackney, red entrance on the left for upstairs, blue entrance on the right for downstairs. Photo by unrestrictedtheatre

It’s so inspiring when you see a beautiful building being brought back into use after years of neglect. This is just what has happened to EartH, (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), hidden away in Dalston.

Built in 1936 as the Savoy cinema seating 1800 in a lavish Art Deco style, it survived into the early 80s before closure and later subdivision for a range of activities. Finally, in 2017/8, the building was brought back together again and after much work and cleaning, the spaces now consist of a first floor cafe/restaurant, a downstairs “black box” venue (in the former stalls) for concerts and music events for between 900-1200 people, and the best of all, in the former balcony, a 720-capacity arts/ performance/ cinema space which retains its richly decorated ceiling and the top half of the proscenium arch. Its current condition might best be described as “arrested decay”.

Interior shot showing upstairs space with laylight and richly decorated ceiling, photo unrestrictedtheatre

The fabric of the building has now been stabilised which has taken much effort in areas such as roofing, plasterwork, cleaning and many other areas which visitors cannot actually see. Although the circle space has yet to be restored, it’s easy to appreciate the volume, scale and quality of the decoration which has thankfully survived decades of neglect.

I visited EartH courtesy of the Cinema Theatre Association and their superb visits organiser Ken Roe. We were very fortunate to meet Josh, the enthusiastic House Manager who gave us a very warm welcome and spoke with genuine affection for the building, about making friends for the facility and also of ambitious plans for the future.

Savoy cinema original auditorium at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Josh mentioned that the group who own the building have another large scale venue nearby, and we agreed that to find a venue this size in Dalston is a precious discovery, and one that will be much in demand; this, they have already proved with a packed programme of events practically every day. One point Josh made is that they never schedule events for the two spaces at the same time, bearing in mind the potential for “sound bleed”, and Josh mentioned that they have ambitions to address this in the future.

Together with the reputation EartH is already making for itself as a popular venue, and the friendly and enthusiastic management team, I feel confident that EartH is in safe hands. Thanks for your welcome, Josh. Let’s all wish them much success, and eventually- the money to do that upstairs restoration!

Savoy Cinema at opening in 1936, photo courtesy EartH website

Find out more about EartH and its events calendar here

To find out more about the great work of the Cinema Theatre Association and how they help to preserve our building heritage, visit their website here

Ceiling decoration detail (apologies for darkness of image) Photo by unrestrictedtheatre

Peterborough Broadway Theatre set to reopen under new management as the New Theatre

Peterborough New Theatre’s auditorium, dating from the 1930s

Peterborough’s beautiful Art Deco Odeon cinema was splendidly restyled to be given a new life as the Broadway Theatre in 2001. Since then, it has had a very bumpy ride as regards managements and has had to suffer going into receivership, a major fire in 2011, and many other indignities.

It had been on the Theatres Trust “Theatres At Risk Register” since 2016 and was recently threatened by redevelopment. Thankfully that was rejected and the venue now has a saviour in global entertainment company Selladoor, whose Venues division have taken over and will reopen the theatre in September, renamed the Peterborough New Theatre. Selladoor are best known as entertainment producers, but are steadily increasing their roster of theatres that they manage, in the UK including other theatres in Blackpool, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. Let’s wish them well with the rebirth of a much-loved local resource.

Visit the theatre’s website here

For more information from The Theatres Trust and other theatres at risk, see here

119-year old Camden theatre beauty gets facelift

Work begins…. (photo taken March 5th by Unrestricted Theatre)

Housed inside a Grade II-listed London theatre, popular Camden music venue Koko announced its closure ahead of a £40 million refurbishment, which will involve the purchase of buildings either side of the venue to expand into rehearsal and performance spaces, a broadcast studio, restaurants and shops in another example of the continuing trend towards vertically integrated entertainment offerings. Thankfully the original listed auditorium will be unaltered in the refurbishment.

The building started life in 1900 as the Camden Theatre, opened by the leading star of her day, Ellen Terry, and designed by leading theatre architect W G R Sprague, originally seating over 2400. In 1909 it was reborn as the Camden Hippodrome, a variety theatre and in 1913 became a cinema, which lasted until World War Two. Purchased by the BBC in 1945, it became a radio theatre, the chief recording home of hit radio shows such as The Goon Show and many others, and it was in pretty much continuous use for over two decades.

When the BBC moved out in 1972 (to relocate to the Golders Green Hippodrome), the building lay empty for some time before being revived as concert venue The Music Machine, later retitled Camden Palace and most recently refurbished as Koko in 2004. Its current capacity is around 1500.

Let’s wish the owners every success and look forward to a long and successful future life for this Camden beauty.

Read the story run by the Evening Standard here

Koko in 2016 (photo courtesy Philafrenzy)