The London Hippodrome, to the east of Leicester Square and built in 1900 by Frank Matcham as a hippodrome for circus and variety performances, it gave its first circus show on 15 January 1900.
With a spectacle unheard of in London at the time, you would enter the theatre via a replica of a ship’s saloon with a performance space featuring both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a 230ft, 100,000 gallon water tank for aquatic spectacles.
[T]he auditorium could also be flooded, and used for the entry of boats. Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats who would dive from a minstrel gallery above a sliding roof, in the centre of the proscenium arch. The auditorium featured cantilevered galleries, removing the columns that often obstructed views in London theatres; the whole was covered by a painted glass retractable roof that could be illuminated at night.
In 1909, it was reconstructed by Matcham as a music-hall and variety theatre with 1,340 seats in stalls, mezzanine, gallery, and upper gallery levels. It was here that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake received its English première by the Russian Ballet in 1910 and Harry Houdini among others appeared.
In 1958 in an act of vandalism the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into the cabaret restaurant, “Talk of the Town”, featuring many of the popular artists of the time, including appearances by Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, the Temptations and the Seekers’ final concert was recorded for the album “The Seekers: Live at The Talk of the Town” in 1968.
The Hippodrome is to undergo an extensive restoration programme taking it back to Matcham’s original 1909 design but unfortunately it will not reopen as a theatre but as a casino. It will also have yet another Gordon Ramsay restaurant, his 15th in London.
Just why do we need yet another casino in London, we are not Monte Carlo? London is the world’s hub for live theatre with over 100 major venues and numerous fringe theatres, so many in fact that you could go to a different production every night of the year.
If you want more information on the history of theatre go to The Music Hall and Theatre Site dedicated to Arthur Lloyd 1839-1904.
Picture Credit: Jacqueline Banerjee at Victorian Web.