Alexandra Palace Theatre first opened in 1875. A feat of Victorian engineering, the impressive stage machinery was designed so that performers could appear, fly through the air and disappear off stage. However, it failed to compete with the more popular theatres of the West End and has been closed to the public for more than 80 years.
The venue has now opened its doors once more, as part of a wider £26.4m restoration of Alexandra Palace’s East Wing. The investment included an £18.8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, one of the largest-ever grants for a heritage project.
Work began in 2016. The challenge faced by the design team, led by award-winning architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, was to preserve the character of the original theatre while creating a safe, modern venue fit for a contemporary audience. The original auditorium had poor sightlines and the two shallow balconies at the rear were too far from the stage – faults the refurbishment has rectified.
The theatre opened in December 2018, with a mixed programme of one-off events taking place throughout the month. An intimate venue, the maximum seated capacity is just over 900. It will present a varied rosta of music, opera, plays and comedy.
In May The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists will perform music from Handel’s Semele (1744). The first full opera to be performed at the theatre will be a reprisal of the English National Opera’s Paul Bunyan (Benjamin Britten, 1941). Enjoying a sell-out run at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2019, this five-star production is part of ENO’s Studio Live initiative, which aims put on opera productions in smaller, intimate spaces.
The renovated auditorium (Keith Armstrong).