Royal Hippodrome Theatre
The Royal Hippodrome Theatre is a theatre in Eastbourne which dates back to 1883 making it the oldest theatre in the town. It was designed and built for the Theatre Manager and Impresario George Beaumont Loveday by the eminent theatre architect C J Phipps. The venue has been host to one of the longest running summer seasons in the country for several years, opening in March and closing in November.

History of the theatre

Origins and early years
The Royal Hippodrome Theatre opened on Thursday 2 August 1883. At the time Eastbourne was emerging as a highly fashionable destination for people, encouraged by the regular visits from the Prince of Wales. Its original name 'Theatre Royal and Opera House' survived for about 20 years but from around 1904 it became The Royal Hippodrome Theatre. Reasons for the change are unclear, but this seems to mirror a change in style and use. In the early days plays and light opera (including the touring company of the D'Oyly Carte) were presented but gradually these gave way to music hall and variety shows. Music hall programmes had been staged in the Bourne Inn in nearby Pevensey Road until around 1900, and it is true that the Royal Hippodrome Theatre was - and still is - at the unfashionable end of town. Vesta Tilley appeared on a bill here in May 1903 and the theatre attracted the star names throughout the music hall era: Harry Houdini, Marie Lloyd, Albert Chevalier, Little Titch, Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Harry Lauder, George Robey, Flanagan & Allen and of course, Max Miller all worked this popular venue. In the 1930s substantial remodelling of the foyer took place, but the auditorium remains much as it was in 1883. Summer rep. variety flourished from 1933 with the Eastbourne Players, a stock company: there was still a resident orchestra of 13 under the baton of Mr Alfred Brocklebank; and a permanent theatre staff of 40! During part of World War 2 the theatre was closed - though not before a young Hylda Baker had graced its boards in early 1942. The streets to the east became known as 'Hellfire Corner', unfortunately situated on the Luftwaffe's chosen bombing route. The Royal Hippodrome Theatre escaped a direct hit - almost miraculously, since the Lion pub and Caffyn's motor garage only yards away were obliterated - but blast damage caused much of the original ornate plaster work to be damaged beyond repair and removed. Many local people still remember with fondness seeing the likes of Elsie & Doris Waters, Harry Secombe, Tod Slaughter on his farewell tour, Frankie Vaughan, Norman Wisdom, Russ Conway and Bruce Forsyth. They recall "It was our theatre ... the toffs went to the Devonshire Park, but the Hip was our theatre". The theatre continued in private ownership until 1958 when, with declining audience numbers, the company was forced to look for a buyer. Around that time Southern TV were interested in purchasing the building for a TV studio but negotiations fell through and the building was bought by Eastbourne Borough Council.

Present day
At the end 2007 Eastbourne Borough Council took the lease back from Matthews Productions. In 2008 Eastbourne Borough Council spent a considerable amount of money on the theatre to bring it up to date with current legislation. The venue was completely rewired and numerous improvements were made backstage. It also had a brand new emergency lighting and fire detection system installed. Eastbourne Theatres bought in a new producer to stage a show for the summer season that year and due to the refurbishments opened slightly later than normal. The shows producer was That's Entertainment Productions who staged the show "Those Variety Days". In December 2008 Noel Edmunds and Sky1 came to the theatre to record the television programme "Noel's Christmas Presents" which was broadcast on Christmas Day. In 2009 in an attempt to boost audience figures Matthews Productions returned to the Royal Hippodrome. This time though Matthews Productions was just the production company and Eastbourne Theatres would continue to operate the venue. The 2010 summer season features Steve Hewlett, Georgia Lee, Wayne Champagne, Britain's Got Talent stars Vizage and Drew Cameron.


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Building Activity

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