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The Empire Theatre, Leicester Square

It's history and a Special Feature on the opening night programme, 1884

Other Leicester Square Theatres and Cinemas

Leicester Square with the Empire Theatre to the left - From an early Postcard.

Above - Leicester Square with the Empire Theatre to the left - From an early Postcard.

 

Empire Theatre of Varieties seating plan - Click to EnlargeSee London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThis Special Feature is about The Empire Theatre Leicester Square's opening night of April the 17th, 1884.

The Feature was first created in May 2004 but has been added to many times over the following years.

The feature includes the whole of the opening night programme, with transcribed text, including a detailed history of the site, the Theatre itself, its construction, and accommodation.

Click to begin the FeatureA brief history of all the incarnations of the Empire Theatre follows but you can dive right in to the original opening night programme feature by clicking here.

The First Empire Theatre

The first Empire Theatre was designed by Thomas Verity and opened in 1884 with a production of 'Chilperic' which was a 'Grand Musical Spectacular' by Florimund Herve.

The Empire later became a Music Hall called 'The Empire Theatre of Varieties,' in 1887.

A new vestibule and side entrance were added in 1893 by Frank Verity.

The building was renamed The Empire Theatre again in 1898 but was closed and demolished on the 22nd January 1927.

 

The Second Empire Theatre

See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe second Empire Theatre was built primarily as a cinema and opened on the 8th of November 1928 with the silent film 'Trewlawny of the Wells.'

Cine-Variety Programme for the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square in March 1950 - Courtesy Alan Chudley -Click to see the Programme.'Cine-variety was presented at the Empire for several years during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the live shows were very elaborate affairs with a large cast and a large pit orchestra, and were similar to shows presented at Radio City Music Hall, New York. At normal West End Cinema ticket prices this type of entertainment was very good value for money. The programmes were issued free of charge.

Left - A Cine-Variety Programme for the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square in March 1950 - Courtesy Alan Chudley -Click to see the Programme.

The Empire had a large auditorium at that date, also a large stage, albeit, on a different axis to Leicester Square then the original Empire. Sir Alfred Butt, had insisted on the retention of a stage as a condition of sale when he sold the original Empire in 1927. The stage lighting for the shows was mainly overhead spot bars with Strand Patt 76 Acting area floods and booms of Stand Patt 50a pageant lamps from the wings, which gave very effective lighting. Unusually for a West End Theatre, the house stage lighting switchboard, was not the usual Strand make but a Blackburn & Starling job.' Text in quotes courtesy Alan Chudley.

This second Empire Theatre was closed in May 1961 after a 76 week run of 'Ben Hur' and the interior was completely reconstructed.

 

The Third Empire Theatre

Three faces of the Empire, Leicester Square.

Above - Three faces of the Empire, Leicester Square. Left: 1884 - the original Empire opens. Centre: 1928 - the MGM Empire opens with a Norma Shearer 'silent.' Right: 1959 - start of the 76-week run of "Ben-Hur," which closed the old Empire in a blaze of glory.

See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe Empire Cinema that we know today is actually the third incarnation of this iconic building in Leicester Square. The Theatre opened on the 19th December 1962 with the film 'Jumbo'. A ballroom was built below the Theatre in what was once the Stalls of the second Empire Theatre. This is now used as a Casino. The Theatre has since been split into two large cinemas but remains pretty much in its original form, and is one of Leicester Square's major Cinemas, currently run by UCI.

See this July 2003 Special Feature on the reconstruction and opening of the third incarnation of the Empire Theatre.

Click here to begin this month's Feature on the opening of the first Empire Theatre

Index to other Theatres and Cinemas in London's Leicester Square