The Royal Hippodrome is the oldest theatre is Eastbourne and has seen a number of changes over years – 2019 is no different, with a £500,000 refurbishment set to take place.
The theatre in Seaside Road first opened its doors in August 1883, as the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, having been granted a Royal Patent by the Prince of Wales.
As the town’s oldest theatre, it also has the longest-running summer season in Britain.
C.J. Phipps, a London architect who designed a number of theatres, was asked to draw plans and help to raise finance for the scheme. The interior of the new theatre was partly modelled on his, now famous, Savoy Theatre in London. Before the end of the century, most of the famous theatrical personalities of the time had appeared at the theatre, including Ellen Terry and Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Opera Company.
In 1904 the theatre was renamed the Eastbourne Hippodrome and began a period of twice-nightly variety shows. Among those performing before WW1 were Ada Reeve, Harry Houdini, who made a well-publicised escape from Eastbourne police’s cells, Harry Tate, Marie Lloyd, Hetty King, Robb Wilton and Fred Karno’s Famous Troupe.
Between the wars the theatre adapted and put on a number of different forms of entertainment, including plays and films. And such stars as Vic Oliver, Cyril Fletcher, and Elsie and Doris Waters, then billed as ‘Stars of Radio’, appeared.
In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s the theatre was bought by Eastbourne Borough Council and still the variety stars kept coming, including Tommy Trinder, Vera Lynn, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Ken Dodd, Roy Hudd and Bruce Forsyth, who was appearing at the Royal Hippodrome when he was called up to compère Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
The Royal Hippodrome has seen many changes over recent years, and in 2019 the building is finally being upgraded, refurbished and improved. After five years under the management of a local community interest company, the theatre is now receiving a £500,000 facelift thanks to new directors Alex and Debbie Adams.
Alex and Debbie have a great vision for the theatre and look forward to taking it on to the next stage. The improvements to the technical specification of the building, the internal spaces and a massive building project to expand the foyer are all well underway.
Alex said: “We have many more plans to improve and enhance the theatrical experience for all theatre-goers and look forward to an exciting future.
“This year has seen some substantial changes to the interior of the building, and with the funding we managed to secure our foyer is now looking bigger and better than ever.
“With the fantastic support we have received from all at Ellis Builders, along with Bradbury Electrical, Sturdy Joinery and Brewers, we have transformed the entrance and hope local patrons will join us to help to celebrate the theatre’s new lease of life.
Debbie added, “With a building this old the list is never-ending but we know people will be amazed when they see the transformation.”
Theatre-goers can enjoy more comfort as the stalls and circle bars have received some much-needed TLC.
“I’m sure people will be pleased to hear we have been donated hundreds of metres of red upholstery fabric to re-cover the stalls seats,” said Alex.
A complete technical upgrade is also underway, and performers will notice a difference with the redecoration of all dressing rooms by Tony French and Barry Saunders.
Over the coming months the studio space on the top floor will be refurbished to become a fully-functioning dance studio and performance space.
Alex added: “Our plans for the forthcoming year include refurbishment and replacement of the toilet facilities and much, much more.”
He added, “We have a range of fantastic children’s shows and are delighted to be able to accommodate a huge number of local community theatre groups and schools over the coming months. This is something we are very proud of.”
And Debbie said: “It’s great for the town to have another theatre with a varied programme.”
Alex and Debbie have thanked all their staff, volunteers and customers for their continued support.
They both agree that running a theatre was a lifelong dream that has very quickly become reality.
Debbie said: “The theatre has become our life and we are very proud of what we have achieved so far – and with many more plans in the pipeline we know we can continue to improve and build on the foundation that has been laid this year.
“People still don’t know where the Hippodrome is and we want to change that.
“We hope new people discover our gem of a theatre.”