The Empire Theatre, Leicester Square

From: Bohemia in London (1907), by Arthur Ransome:

“…how often I would come here, if the world should turn good critic, and recognise in solid wealth the merit of my masterpieces.

Across Shaftesbury Avenue, past the stage doors of Daly’s and the Hippodrome, through the narrow asphalt passage that is often crowded with ballet girls and supers, walking up and down before the times of their performances at one or other theatre, you find your way into the brilliance of Leicester Square. The Alhambra and the Empire fill two sides of it with light, and Shakespeare stands on a pedestal between them, resting his chin on his hand in melancholy amazement.

Downstairs at the corner of the Square there is the drinking-hall of the Provence…”

From Wikipedia:

“The Empire Theatre opened on 17 April 1884 under the ownership of Daniel Nicols as a West End variety theatre on Leicester Square, as well as a ballet venue, with a capacity of about 2,000 seats.
The first performance was Chilpéric, with music by Hervé, adapted by H. Hersee and H.B. Farnie and described as a Grand Musical Spectacular, in three acts and seven tableaux. The corps de ballet for the performance was 50 strong. Edward Solomon and Sydney Grundy premièred their comic opera, Pocahontas or The Great White Pearl, another Solomon opera, Polly or The Pet of the Regiment transferred here, and his Billee Taylor was revived here, all in 1884. Kate Vaughan starred in Around the World in 80 Days at the theatre in 1886. Hervé premièred his Diana (1888) and Cleopatra (1889) at the theatre.

In 1887, the theatre reopened as a popular music hall named the Empire Theatre of Varieties. From 1887 to 1915, the designer C. Wilhelm created both scenery and costumes for (and sometimes produced) numerous ballets at the theatre, which established a fashion for stage design and were much imitated. George Edwardes managed the theatre around the start of the 20th century. The dancer Adeline Genée and the theatre’s ballet company, working under composer-director Leopold Wenzel, did much to revive the moribund art of ballet in Britain, which had declined in the 19th century.

An extension providing secondary access from Leicester Street via a new foyer was added in 1893, with Frank Verity as the architect.
In March 1896, the Empire Theatre played host to the first commercial theatrical performances of a projected film to a UK audience by Auguste and Louis Lumière. The film programme ran for 18 months. Over the next few years, the theatre began to offer a programme of live performances with short film shows.”

From: an entry by John Earl and Elain Harwood in The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres, 1750-1950 – a Gazetteer (2000)*:

*updated version of Curtains!!! (1982).

“…it opened in 1884 as the Empire Theatre…

After a brilliant career it closed in 1927, was almost entirely rebuilt and opened as a cinema…The Empire of 1928 was the only cinema in Britain constructed to designs by the American specialist Thomas Lamb. The elevation is closely based on his Albee Theatre in Cincinnati, built a year earlier. The deep portico is the only surviving element of his work.”

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