Video: HACKNEY EMPIRE: ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS Short Film Celebrates Hackney Empire 120th Anniversary

The short film looks back at the history of an iconic building, its transformation back into a theatre in the 1980s and the people that made that possible.

By: Dec. 09, 2022
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As Hackney Empire reaches the end of their 120th Birthday year, the team has released the short film HACKNEY EMPIRE: ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS.


The short film looks back at the history of an iconic building, its transformation back into a theatre in the 1980s and the people that made that possible. The film features current Artistic Director Yamin Choudury in discussion with Roland and Claire Muldoon and the close-knit team they built around them, as they recall how they obtained the theatre from Mecca Bingo in 1986 and the magic they experienced running Hackney Empire over the years to follow. This is a tribute to the people that have made Hackney Empire the home it is to so many today and includes the voices of some of the young people who've had their lives transformed in recent years on and off its stages.

Filmed and edited by Mann Bros., and produced by Mann Bros. and Hackney Empire, the film also features Othman Read (current Technical Manager, who has worked at Hackney Empire since c.1989), Brian Wren (has just retired having looked after the building since 1986), Laura Muldoon (Roland and Claire's daughter, who worked at the venue from a teenager onwards) Frank Sweeney (Hackney Empire producer from the 1990s onwards), Hazel Durrant (fundraiser, who played a huge role in the redevelopment of the theatre in the 2000s), Jasmyn Fisher-Ryner, Celine Paul, Dylan Harris, Dominique Florent-Lee (Creative Futures alumni) and Pete Morland (Technical Team).

Yamin Choudury said, "The very fact that Hackney Empire has been open for 120 years is a testament to how important it's been to our local community and a wider community. The literal theatrical empire that the Stoll Moss Group created with Frank Matcham in the late 1800s and early 1900s has all but evaporated from the face of modern UK arts and culture. And it's only right that we take an opportunity to really celebrate the incredible people that have enabled Hackney Empire to not only survive but thrive. This organisation, this building, has been through a huge amount. Roland and Claire Muldoon, who took this place over from Mecca Bingo, and transformed it back into a theatre with their incredible team are responsible for the ethics and the morals and the principles that inform our practice to this day. If it weren't for that group of misfits who came and worked absolute magic none of us would be here today. It felt really, really important to take a moment to celebrate the fact that this organisation based in this building is still here and to recognise the amazing people that have made that a possibility."

Designed by Frank Matcham, Hackney Empire was built in 1901 as a music hall and palace of variety, with legends such as Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, WC Fields and Julie Andrews performing there. After a period in the 1950s when it was used as a TV studio, from 1963 to 1984, the venue was owned and run by Mecca Bingo. Roland and Claire Muldoon then took it over and restored it to its former glory in time for its 85th anniversary. Hackney Empire was the venue for the alternative comedy boom in the 1980s, with comedians such as Frankie Boyle, Jo Brand, Ben Elton, Jeremy Hardy, Lenny Henry, Arthur Smith and Lee Evans all performing there. The venue closed in 2001 for a £17m refurbishment, and since reopening, its artistic programme has included theatre, opera, comedy, dance and music, with creative collaborations with national and international companies. Its iconic pantomime has run since 1988, most recently with Venue Patron Clive Rowe starring as the Dame.

Its 120th anniversary year has also seen the 20th anniversary of the Creative Futures Programme; since 2002, it has used arts and creativity to break down barriers, build confidence and provide creative, professional and personal development for young people regardless of their background, education, income or experience.

Roland Muldoon said, "The anarchists said, 'if you want to change the world get hold of a printing machine, and then you could print yourself. You don't have to pay the publishers or the printers.' We said no, we don't want a printing machine, we found we'd got a theatre."



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