Birmingham Hippodrome Re-Opens

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The Foyer

Nigel in The Atrium

The Atrium

Dressing Room

Peter in The Dressing Room

Dressing Room

Leith's Restaurant

 

After 22 months of closure, the newly restored Hippodrome Theatre re-opens this week. The official opening is on Tuesday, 13th November, when the theatre hosts “The Silver Gala”, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The Ugly Sisters, Peter & Nigel were summoned to the Hippodrome last week to try out the new dressing rooms and to take part in the media coverage of the new building. The jewel of the Hippodrome, the beautiful Victorian auditorium has been preserved, and redecorated in shades of cream and silver, with the chandeliers from the old foyer taking pride of place in the boxes, which now carry the theatre’s original date, 1899 on one side, and on the other that of its rebirth, 2001.

Having played this theatre on many occasions, the sheer scale of the rebuilding was the first thing that astonished us. Apart from one section, where the old dressing rooms were located, the rest of this vast new building was a step into the unknown. Getting lost was quite easy for the first day, until gradually we got to work out the various routes backstage and front of house. The new dressing room block is a sight to warm the hearts of actors, singers and dancers everywhere- it is state of the art, spacious and will be a sheer joy to use during a season at the Hippodrome.

The new block of dressing rooms are located in a square, overlooking a garden-style atrium. Natural daylight pours in through the glass roof several stories above, and each room has a view of this atrium through large patio style doors. Every room is individually air-conditioned with showers, toilets and excellent lighting. All are on stage level (very different from the old rooms) and a clever design feature means when everyone has vacated the room, the lights go out automatically. You step into the room, and the lighting kicks in again- the same with corridors when there is no movement. A wise energy saving device. The rooms will be equipped with lockers, refrigerators in some cases, and television monitors, in addition to the tannoy facilities and telephone sockets. Backstage catering takes place a few floors above in a green room that overlooks the atrium, access via lifts or the impressive spiral staircase at the new stage door in Hurst street.

 Front of house, a new impressive foyer, which along with the backstage area offers excellent disabled facilities, leads to several floors of bars, kiosks and cloakrooms serving every level of the auditorium. Large glass lifts are at the centre of each level, with natural light from huge glass windows. These have been etched to reflect stage “tabs” or curtains by Liz Rideal. Douglas Fir cladding has been used in the foyer areas which lead to the auditorium, and to the new 206 seater Patrick Centre for performing arts. Leith’s Restaurant is on the first floor, overlooking Hurst Street.

 The new building also houses DanceXchange, which has offices and four new studios hosting a range of public dance classes and projects. The Birmingham Royal Ballet also enjoys the Jerwood Centre for the Prevention and treatment of dance injuries, which provides care for the BRB and other companies in Britain and abroad.

 Looking around the new building, it is obvious that we are looking at one of the most modern and well equipped houses in Europe. The £28.8 million rebuild includes Birmingham’s newest and largest public work of art- it’s safety curtain. Artist Balraj Khanna has created a painting “Astral Dance” 42 feet wide by 26 feet high on the Theatre’s safety curtain, taking him a total of six weeks. The painting is abstract, with geometric elements- shapes that seem to escape the surface of the painting.

Astral Dance - The New Safety Curtain

The Ugly Sisters will be part of the foyer entertainment on opening night, meeting and greeting the guests as they arrive to watch “The Silver Gala”- so obviously, our finest silver creations are the order of the day! See below for the report on opening night !!

 

Birmingham Hippodrome

THE SILVER GALA

 The official re-opening of the newly refurbished Hippodrome took place on Tuesday 13th of November, and repeated again the following night to accommodate the vast audiences who flocked to admire their new theatre.

 The Ugly Sisters, decked out in silver were at the foyer door to welcome the 2,000 strong audiences as they entered the building for the first time, serenaded by a brass band. Among the celebrities attending the opening were Brian Conley, who stars in this year’s panto “Dick Whittington”, and his wife Anne Marie Conley, with Jasper Carrott, Pam Ayres, Don Mclean (Sarah the Cook in this panto season) Radio presenter Ed Doolan, television’s Kay Alexander and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and Lady Mayoress. Paul Elliott and his wife Linda Hayden attended, as did representatives of Qdos, the producers of this year’s pantomime.

As the four new foyers filled up, the guests discovered the “Living” statues situated on each floor as they enjoyed complimentary drinks and canapés before entering the silver and cream auditorium to enjoy the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “The Silver Gala”. The theme being silver, most of the audience were dressed in silver, the ladies mostly in sequins and many gentlemen sporting silver waistcoats, cravats and the like!

The ballet included extracts from BRB successes such as” Four Scottish Dancers, “, “Hobson’s Choice” director David Bintley’s new ballet “The Seasons” and the “Still life at the penguin café” with dancing fleas, penguin waiters and zebras. It was a fitting tribute to the BRB’s return to their rightful home.

At the end of the performance each member of the audience was presented with an engraved miniature tray, or engraved silver bookmark to celebrate this historic occasion, and were waved off by the indefatigable Ugly Sisters shortly after eleven o’clock.

It was such a pleasure to be a small part of this historic opening, and we wish the “Hippo” a very long and healthy future as the premier home of pantomime! Our sincere best wishes and thanks to all who work at the Hippodrome!

 

This page was last updated 9th June 2002

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