Edition 16: The Empire

Hackney Empire exterior

photo by Felix Carey

In this programme we trace the shifting guises of the Hackney Empire - from music hall to bingo hall, from television studio to wrestling venue, to its current incarnation as a home for populist theatre and comedy. Elisha Sessions and Francesca Panetta follow a group of local Hackney Empire aficionados who call themselves The Elders as they prepare to say goodbye to another era in the theatre's history. The gang of mates who ran the Empire since its resurrection in the mid-1980s have been shown the door, and as a new chief exec reconsiders the theatre's "business model" the Elders want to know what happens next.

Theatre and cinema historian Ken Roe takes us through the extraordinary journey of this Victorian gem, along with New Variety impresario Roland Muldoon, who re-opened the Empire as a performance space and spearheaded its recent refurbishment. The theatre's new chief executive Claire Middleton tells us her plans to reduce the £1.5m deficit, while Diane Abbot MP voices her concerns for shutting it next year, letting a theatre go dark, she says, means there is a possibility it won't open again. One of the casualties of the theatre's closure, director of programming Frank Sweeney talks about filling the theatre 1,800 seats every night and we hear from panto pasha Susie McKenna about this winter's production of Aladdin with Clive Rowe.

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