The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.


Details of the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square in its three major guises 1884 - 1887 - 1962

Details on the opening of the original Empire Theatre April 19th, 1884

There has been some delay in opening the theatre, partly owing to the very positive demands of the Board of Works. Since the gigantic fires we have had of late years, there is a very natural desire on the part of the public for all possible means to be adopted to obtain security in this respect, and we believe that the Empire is better provided for, owing to its roomy and convenient approaches, than any other theatre existing. Some particulars of the auditorium may be welcome, and first we may state that the height of the theatre from the floor to the centre of the roof is fifty-one feet, but the theatre is so broad that the proportions are very graceful. The horseshoe form is that adopted, and there are four tiers of boxes, there being also a balcony and promenade, as well as a dress circle. This circle is surrounded by private boxes. The style of decoration belongs to the period termed French Renaissance, the predominating colours being cream and gold, contrasted with crimson hangings, and the stall seats are similarly covered. There are one hundred and eighty orchestra stalls and one hundred and eight reserved pit stalls. The pit, with a promenade twelve feet wide, will supply accommodation for five hundred and fifty visitors. The opening of the proscenium is thirty-two feet wide and thirty-five feet high, the supports of the ceiling being caryatides of colossal size giving great effect and boldness to the design. All the tiers and corridors are constructed of fireproof materials. The stage is magnificently adapted for all spectacular purposes, being seventy-seven feet wide, and fifty feet deep. A feature in the construction is comparatively novel in an English theatre, that is the foyer so generally popular on the Continent. The foyer at the Empire theatre is in reality a splendid saloon nearly fifty feet square. It has a balcony and is thirty-three feet in height. The foyer is magnificently embellished, and has a mosaic flooring. Columns of Scagliola marble, with an entablature and dado of black marble, surround the foyer, which is also brilliantly illuminated with sun-lights. Ultimately the elctric light is to be employed for novel effects, as it is already for scenic illusion. It is calculated that the Empire Theatre when used to the full extent of its capacity will seat about three thousand five hundred visitors. But there is not the slightest fear, however well the theatre may be attended, that the visitors will suffer any of the inconveniences unavoidable in some of the older establishments, as in every portion of the house the utmost freedom for exit and entrance has been preserved. In fact, after the visitor has been dazzled and delighted with the splendour and elegance of the auditorium and the graceful form of the entire theatre, the next thing that will attract attention is the airy and expansive effect of the whole. In a theatre devoted to entertainments of a musical and spectacular kind this brilliancy of the auditorium will not be the least of the attractions. Our playgoers now demand greater comfort and convenience than in the barn-like structures and dimly-lighted dramatic temples which their forefathers frequented, and since the appearance of the theatre itself does unquestionably exert an important influence on the minds of modern audiences, the beauty and completeness of the Empire Theatre ought to go a long way towards securing the popularity which may reasonably be anticipated for the splendid establishment in Leicester Square. If we are lost in astonishment as we recall the magnificence of the auditorium, we are impressed, if possible, to a greater extent still by the really wonderful effects produced upon the stage. The manner in which Chilperic is illustrated and decorated may be said to mark a new departure in the history of stage illusion. There is something fairylike and dreamlike in the way some of the scenes are managed, as, for example, the ‘Mistletoe Grove,’ in the first act.

The above text was first published in the Era, April 19th, 1884.

Details on the opening of the refurbished Empire Theatre of Varieties 22nd December 1887

The success of the entertainment called 'variety' has induced Messrs. Augustus Harris and George Edwardes to open yet another music hall on a scale of palatial magnificence. The Empire Theatre, after its redecoration and improvements, is, indeed, a 'Palace of Delight,' with its luxurious fauteuiis, its plush-covered seats, and its lavishly adorned interior. The general character of the decorations of the auditorium is Persian, and turquoise and indigo blue, rose colour and crimson, black and gold are mingled with dazzling effect in its ornamentation. The sunlight is a large flower in coloured glass, with the stamens and pistils of electric lights. The columns all round the theatre are white, with characteristic ornament in two blues and gold. This treatment is applied to the various box fronts, using in, as far as possible, the raised ornamentation already existing. The back and ceiling of gallery circle is treated with ruby and gold leather paper. The three other circles, which are architecturally Louis Seize in treatment, are severally rose and gold; blue, white, and gold; and white and gold, the latter with plush panels. The upper circle is lighted by eighteen lamps of Persian design, in coloured glass, with gold frames, and the walls of the private boxes are all covered with a highly enriched gold leather paper. The pit entrance is decorated with Egyptian ornament, leading down to a solid gold leather paper on lower walls, and the white and gold treatment on the ground floor is one of the most characteristic pieces of work in the theatre. Various refreshment-bars and staircases are all treated with special decoration; the foyer - which is pure Renaissance - is entered by a grand staircase, Pompeiian in treatment; the entrance halls are Indian, and are coloured with black and gold and a deep rich crimson. The black and gold striped pilasters here are noteworthy in the general scheme, and the large hall is lighted by specially designed Indian lamps of coloured glass, supported on bronze bases. From the hall entering into the grand circle, one passes through a lovely little Japanese vestibule, with gold frets, bamboos, birds, butterflies, etc., with a specially designed coloured glass Chinese lantern in centre of a golden fretted ceiling. The seating arrangements are excellent, the stalls being especially commodious, the liberal space between their rows permitting ingress and egress without inconvenience. The private boxes at the back of the grand circle are most tastefully and comfortably upholstered, and a wide corridor makes a pleasant promenade, and is, as Artemus Ward would have said, a great boon.' In a few weeks' time, when the tints of the decorations have become a little toned and harmonised, and the spick and span' glitter quieted down, the general effect of the auditorium will be perfectly artistic, as it is now dazzlingly beautiful. We must not, however, expend all our adjectives of admiration upon the appearance of the interior. In any case, we shall find it difficult enough to find at hand terms sufficiently strong to describe the beauty of the ballets, which are evidently to be the great feature at the Empire.

The above text was first published in the Era, December 22nd, 1887

Facts about the 1962 Empire Theatre

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