London Hippodrome in 2009
|Address||Charing Cross Road|
|Designation||Grade II listed|
|Owned by||European Leisure|
|Capacity||1340 seated (1909)|
|Type||circus and variety shows|
|Years active||1402 - 1983|
|Previous names||1958 The Talk of the Town
1983 London Hippodrome
2004 Cirque at the Hippodrome
|Current use||Corporate hire|
The Hippodrome is a building on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Leicester Square in the City of Westminster, London. The name was used for many different theatres and music halls, of which the London Hippodrome is one of only a few survivors. The name hippodrome was derived from animal acts forming a significant part of the entertainment.
The London Hippodrome was built in 1900 by Frank Matcham for Edward Moss for £250,000 as a hippodrome for circus and variety performances. The venue gave its first Circus show on 15 January 1900. The first show ever given was a music hall revue entitled 'Giddy Ostend' with Little Tich and (in one of his first roles) Charlie Chaplin. Entry to the venue was through a bar, dressed as a ship's saloon and the performance space featured both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a 230 ft, 100,000 gallon water tank (400 ton, when full) for aquatic spectacles. The tank featured eight central fountains, and a circle of fountains around the side. Entrances at the side of the auditorium could also be flooded, and used for the entry of boats. Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats 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. The building included the headquarters of Moss Empires.
In 1909, it was reconstructed by Matcham as a music-hall and variety theatre with 1340 seats in stalls, mezzanine, gallery, and upper gallery levels. It was here that Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake received its English première by the Ballets Russes in 1910. The Albert de Courville revues were performed here from December 1912.
Its reputation was for revue and musical comedy, among them The Five O'Clock Girl and also Mr. Cinders, both in 1929, Ivor Novello's Perchance to Dream in 1945 with Margaret Rutherford, and the revue High Spirits in 1953 with Cyril Ritchard and Diana Churchill. Julie Andrews made her stage debut here at the age of 12. From 1949 to 1951 it was the London equivalent of the Folies Bergères.
In 1958, the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into the nightclub, "The Talk of the Town" by Bernard Delfont, featuring many of the popular artists of the time, including appearances by Diana Ross & The Supremes, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey and The Temptations, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Sergio Franchi, Engelbert Humperdinck, Val Doonican, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Lulu, Matt Monro, Cliff Richard, Raphael, Stevie Wonder, Sacha Distel and Neil Sedaka. In February 1964, Ethel Merman made her only appearance in Britain in a season of cabaret. The Seekers' final concert was recorded for the album 'The Seekers: Live at The Talk of the Town' in 1968. This form of entertainment, in its turn fell out of public favour, and the venue closed in 1982.
The musical drama End of the Rainbow, nominated for a number of Olivier Awards in 2011 during its London run and Tony Awards in 2012 while on Broadway, is set at The Talk of The Town during a Judy Garland engagement there near the end of her life.
Renovated yet again, the building was reopened as a nightclub/restaurant called "The London Hippodrome" by nightclub tycoon Peter Stringfellow in 1983. Some years later, Stringfellow sold it to a chain company called European Leisure. Under the stewardship of David Chipping and then Nigel Collinson the club went on to win many BEDA and DI awards, regularly attracting crowds in excess of 2,000. Following its sale to Luminar the club soon went out of fashion and it wasn't until April 2004 that the Hippodrome regained its standing when it was transformed into "Cirque at the Hippodrome". The interior was taken back to hues of reds and golds and Burlesque was the theme. Cirque at the Hippodrome won the BEDA award for best UK nightclub in 2004.
It was revealed in October 2005 that the club had lost its public drinks licence and would no longer be able to serve alcohol as the local police didn't want what they called 'vertical drinking' (the majority of patrons standing rather than sitting) in Leicester Square. The police also shut down most of the venues in the local area. Following this, in December 2005, the club was eventually forced to close, following reports of violence involving rival gangs after they had left the building of the Hippodrome, which reflected on its closure later in Westminster licensing court.
In January 2006 a young entrepreneur, Miss Charmaine Haig, took over the lease of the Hippodrome building on a short term before a casino licence application could be secured for future use. Miss Haig initially maintained and managed the empty venue on her own and then changed the venues name back to the 'London Hippodrome' from its previous name 'Cirque'.
Shortly after, Miss Haig's in-house events company 'Hip Events' bloomed holding only corporate and high end private events in the venue but once again using the space to its full capacity as a variety venue with album launches, dance shows, gala dinners, awards ceremonies & Leicester Square film premier after parties.
In 2008 Miss Haig, and her by then business partner (Technical Director), acquired a theatre licence for the venue and subsequently turned the venue back into a theatre. The adult cabaret show 'La Clique' was found at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2008 and by the beginning of Oct 2008 the show previewed at the London Hippodrome and with great success and stayed running until the end of the Hippodrome lease under Charmaine Haig in June 2009. In this time the show La Clique at the Hippodrome won an Olivier Award in 2009 in the 'Best Entertainment' category.
In 2009, the lease on the Hippodrome was acquired by Leicester-born father and son entrepreneurs Jimmy and Simon Thomas, who began an extensive restoration programme taking the Hippodrome back to Matcham's original designs for use as a casino and entertainment venue. During the planning stage the adjacent Cranbourn Mansions building became available and plans were redrafted to incorporate this former gentlemen’s apartment block into the design, doubling the eventual floorspace and linked using a new structure sited within the existing light well between the two buildings.
Investment in the building totaled upwards of a reported £40million, cash raised by the Thomas family from the sale of a number of bingo halls prior to the UK smoking ban, which made it illegal to smoke within an enclosed workplace, on July 1, 2007.
The Hippodrome Casino was opened on July 13, 2012, by Mayor of London Boris Johnson who described it as ‘yet another ringing endorsement of London as a great place to invest.’
The venue on opening included four floors of gaming including a Gold Room casino sited in the original basement with access directly into Chinatown to the rear of the building, Heliot restaurant, six bars, a smoking terrace and The Matcham Room cabaret theatre.
In January 2013 the casino was awarded Best Land-based Casino at the Totally Gaming Awards, which also gave Jimmy Thomas a Life Achievement award for his contribution to the gaming and entertainment industries.
On March 4, 2013, Simon Thomas announced the opening of Pokerstars LIVE, a deal between the Hippodrome and Pokerstars, the world’s largest online poker website.
(most apply to the Talk of the Town)
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