Empire curtain to rise again in summer

HEmpire to re-open this summer and it will present a Christmas panto

  • Council planners give go-ahead to theatre’s property deal
  • Acting boss ran a venue that went broke after £2 million grant

THE MOOD WAS celebratory at a public meeting called by the Hackney Empire for the day after Hackney council’s planning committee. At that meeting councillors approved the theatre’s scheme for a developer to build offices on land in Sylvester Path behind the theatre.

The theatre management’s excitement was understandable: it had seen off the threat from protesters wanting to save the historic Sylvester Path from a box-like high-rise building, seemingly leaving the way for the theatre to profit from the deal. So desperate is the Empire’s financial plight that it was to close for the rest of this year.

Clarie Middleton, the Empire’s acting chief executive, told the meeting that the theatre would, however re-open in summer (June, so soon?) and will present a pantomime next winter.

Experience might tell her to be wary of celebrating too early. The last time she did that was a few years ago when the theatre under her charge, the Northcott in Exeter, Devon, won a £2.1 million Arts Council grant. Early this year the theatre went into administration, despite Arts Council objections. Northcott trustees said the operation was insolvent.

The Hackney Empire is not insolvent. But Roland Muldoon, its former guiding light, termed the Empire’s property deal “sadly comical”. He told Loving Dalston: “It turns out that it will cost the poorly funded theatre £83,000pa to hire back a ground floor space in the new block and then after ten years they could purchase their bit for £700,000 in what must be the worst possible deal.”

David Altheer 16032010

* Backstory: Stage fright for the Empire

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