Theatres at Risk Register 2021

Published: 31 January 2021
Reporter: Sandra Giorgetti

Burnley Empire interior auditorium stalls and stagehouse Credit: Ben Hamlen, North Films
Hulme Hippodrome interior auditorium balcony to proscenium Credit: Ian Grundy
Victoria Salford interior auditorium view along balcony front Credit: David Geddes
Plymouth Palace interior auditorium view of stagehouse Credit: Theatres Trust
Ramsbottom Co-op Music Hall interior side balconies Credit: Theatres Trust
Kings Kirkcaldy interior Credit: David Clark

Theatres Trust, the national advisory public body for theatres, now has 31 venues on its Theatres at Risk Register.

The theatre spaces on the Register are all of significant architectural merit and community value identified across a range of criteria creating a list of venues of varied styles and ages, all at risk of redevelopment or closure.

The 2021 list has one new entry, Ramsbottom's Co-op Music Hall, for which the Trust hopes to get listed building status following its application last year. The 800-seat 1870s building retains many of its original features including its upper gallery, decorative ironwork columns, basket-arched roof trusses and boarded ceiling with ornate cast-iron ventilator sunburners. It is under threat of redevelopment for housing.

Similarly, Grade II-listed music hall Hulme Hippodrome is also in a perilously vulnerable position. Its features include gilded rococo plasterwork and a seating pattern unique to its architect, Joseph John Alley. Owners, the controversial Gilbert Deya Ministries, have consistently left the building untended resulting in its current condition. It goes up for sale by auction this week which is a grave concern, not least to the local campaign group formed to save the building. The group hopes to use the building as a museum celebrating Manchester’s musical heritage.

The situation also remains dire for Dudley Hippodrome, which is included in a redevelopment bid for a new university hub, and the Intimate Theatre in Palmers Green, where Enfield Council has approved a planning application that will see it demolished; the Theatres Trust has referred the case to the Secretary of State. Dudley Hippodrome, built in the 1930s, is Dudley’s only remaining lyric theatre and could be returned to use for live performance; the 400-seat Intimate Theatre is a rare survivor of a building that illustrates repertory theatre design in the inter-war period.

There is mixed news for the UK’s most architecturally significant circus theatre, the Grade II listed Brighton Hippodrome which has suffered years of neglect. This venue has been on the Register since it started in 2006 and has held the top position over a number of years; whilst local developer Matsim Properties, the new owner, has started on urgent repair works the future of the building continues to be uncertain.

The change of ownership of the Brighton Hippodrome is part of the recent trend noted by Theatres Trust that has seen vacant theatre buildings sold by their private owners. Alongside the Brighton Hippodrome, Garston Empire, Salford Victoria and Theatr Ardudwy were all offered for sale in later part of last year.

The Trust's work continued apace, responding to theatre closures caused by the pandemic. It spearheaded the #SaveOurTheatres Crowdfunder campaign, and offers Theatre Reopening Fund grants and free special advice services.

Although the Register saw only one additional entry, no theatres have been taken off the list despite progress in some areas such as Grade II-listed Burnley Empire and Grade II listed Derby Hippodrome, both thanks to support through the Trust’s Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, and Leith Theatre, which has been used during 2020 as a food bank and by charity Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts to feed those in need.

At the same time, the Trust has continued with its advocacy work with the DCMS and support to campaign groups, key stakeholders, local authorities and others protecting theatres under threat of demolition, redevelopment or permanent closure across the UK.

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said, "this past year has shown that communities value places where they can come together and that audiences miss live performances. While the theatre sector still has challenging days ahead, Theatres Trust believes that theatre will come back stronger than ever and that each building on the Theatres at Risk list has real potential to be a valuable asset to its community, to bring much needed footfall to its town centre and spark regeneration of its area as part of the recovery post-COVID."

The theatres appearing on the 2021 register are as follows:

  1. Brighton Hippodrome
  2. Theatre Royal Margate
  3. Victoria Pavilion/Winter Gardens, Morecambe
  4. Dudley Hippodrome
  5. Victoria Theatre, Salford
  6. Spilsby Theatre
  7. Streatham Hill Theatre, London
  8. Groundlings Theatre, Portsea
  9. Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech
  10. Winter Gardens Pavilion, Blackpool
  11. Burnley Empire
  12. Plymouth Palace
  13. Hulme Hippodrome
  14. Century Theatre, Coalville
  15. Walthamstow Granada, London
  16. Leith Theatre
  17. King’s Theatre, Dundee
  18. Tottenham Palace Theatre, London
  19. Conwy Civic Hall
  20. Mechanics’ Institute, Swindon
  21. Intimate Theatre, London
  22. Co-op Music Hall, Ramsbottom
  23. Kings Theatre, Kirkcaldy
  24. Tameside Hippodrome, Ashton-under-Lyne
  25. North Pier Pavilion, Blackpool
  26. Garston Empire, Liverpool
  27. Doncaster Grand
  28. Swansea Palace
  29. Derby Hippodrome
  30. Theatre Royal, Hyde
  31. Theatre Royal, Manchester