Financial difficulties will force the Hackney Empire to close down for nine months in the new year, sacking the majority of their workforce in the process.
The Empire, a former music hall turned TV studio and bingo hall that reopened as a theatre in 2004 after a three-year, multi-million pound refit, will close its main performance hall after the annual pantomime wraps in January, and won't re-open until the 2010 panto. New chief executive Clarie Middleton, only in the job for a month, ominously called the closure a "period of reflection", and despite the venue remaining open for youth and participation work, there's grave concern that, once the 108-year old venue winds down, it simply won't open as a theatre again.
Middleton, who has experience in managing Bristol's Old Vic, says that the Empire needs to take stock of its entire operation, including programming and marketing, before re-opening. Yet according to industry paper The Stage, sources within the theatre are pointing the finger at the Arts Council England, which represents 15% of the venue's funding, with one insider suggesting that the Empire's "popular and multicultural" shows have fallen foul of box-ticking bureaucrats.
As a highly desirable, Grade II* listed building in a location newly attractive for ravenous developers, it's to be hoped the Hackney Empire's closure is brief and beneficial, and that it doesn't again fall into the arms of the bingo-wing brigade.
Photo by Chris 07