MUSICAL theatre could return to the historic Brighton Hippodrome within three years.

David Fisher, of the Brighton Hippodrome CIC, said he hoped the Victorian venue could be reopened in time for the 2018 Brighton Festival if they succeed with their £13 million makeover.

The Grade II* listed venue, which has had The Beatles, Sammy Davis Jnr, Laurence Olivier, Harry Houdini, Laurel and Hardy and many more stars tread its boards, will come back on to the market in a matter of weeks.

The not-for-profit community interest company hopes to be in a position to buy the freehold next year and begin the process of restoring the Middle Street theatre, which is currently number one on a national most at-risk list.

The campaign to save the theatre has gathered 15,000 petition signatures and been backed by theatrical heavyweights Dame Judi Dench and Sir Alan Ayckbourn.

Mr Fisher said they were now at the “default option” for the future of the site which they hope could become a versatile space for theatre, musicals, circus, conference events, sports events and weddings.

An agreement by live venue operator Academy Music Group, who bought the freehold of the site in April, giving a stakeholder group six months to draw up a viability study, expires on December 18.

AMG will listen to offers in the new year, but Mr Fisher believes that the time has put the CIC in pole position to take on the site, which has remained unused since 2007.

A viability study drawn up by global real estate advisors Colliers International has concluded the Hippodrome has a future as a live performance venue, but would only be economically viable for a not-for-profit organisation.

The CIC has put forward three options, with a basic restoration of the interior costing around £8 million, the favoured option of a flexible 900-seat capacity “Theatre of Varieties” costing around £13 million and the creation of a £30 million 1,500 capacity lyric theatre capable of hosting large-scale touring productions. Each option includes the purchase.

Funding would come from grants from various bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund, a proposed community share scheme and commercial partners.

Mr Fisher said: “We want to get this message across to people that we can do this, that it is a very exciting prospect and with public support we do stand a very good chance of having a really top class entertainment and cultural centre in Brighton and Hove.

“We have been quiet the past six months doing all the preparatory work, but now is when we start making a noise about where we are going.

“It would be a venue not just for performance, plays, musicals, theatre in the round, but we could also have circus, we could have snooker, we could do an episode of Strictly Come Dancing, which they have just done from Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

“We could do cabaret, conferences, big weddings, imagine getting married under that cathedral. We are not campaigning to save it anymore, it is a business proposition that we are working on.”

Residents can hear about the progress of the campaign at a public meeting in St Paul’s Church in West Street on Tuesday from 6pm.


David Fisher

The Argus (TA): What is the current situation with the Hippodrome?

David Fisher of Brighton Hippodrome CIC (DF): Academy Media Group (AMG) are planning to put it back on the market but they gave us the six months in order to help us get a head start.

I had heard people say that the only reason AMG gave us that time was to prove that it could not be done, but I think it’s the opposite.

The reason they gave us the six months is because we are the best bet really.

Anyone who comes along and wants to change the use or even demolition is going to find it really difficult in getting that through.

The obvious default position is restoration for live performance.

And I think that if any commercial developer came along and showed an interested, AMG would say “there’s another group you might like to work in partnership with them”.

(TA): What options are you exploring for the Hippodrome restoration?

(DF): The basic level of restoration would be making the building secure, weatherproofing it, keeping the flat floor, a little bit of development, creating a cafe in Hippodrome House at a cost of around £8 million.

The next step up is what Colliers call the Theatre of Varieties which has a little more work and a bit more development on the site, maybe penthouses over the yard.

It would be a pretty sophisticated flexible space.

It probably can’t do really big West End productions, but it could do anything else.

We can do it in stages and have the option for a full lyric theatre at a later stage.

I would like to head for the middle one right from the start, which is about £13 million, but we would need a developer on that.

(TA): When could a renovated Hippodrome reopen?

(DF): The Colliers report says that it could be open by the middle of 2018.

But that’s predicted on the bid going in to the Heritage Enterprise Scheme a little bit later than we intend to do.

We are trying to pull that forward.

Ideally, I would like to see it open for the 2018 Brighton Festival in the May.

(TA): Where will the funding come from?

(DF): We can raise the money for restoration through the Heritage Enterprise Scheme, through charitable donations, through community share schemes.

There will be a package of funding like that and we can also work with commercial operators.

We have put in some bids to get money to do preparatory work and in just over two weeks we will put in a bid to the Heritage Enterprise Scheme which could give us up to £5 million.

And we are waiting for a couple of other grants to come through.

To go to the £8 million, we could get the rest from charitable bodies, maybe the Arts Council, there are 50 other bodies who give up to £250,000 we can apply to.

And then once we know if we’re on the way to getting Heritage Enterprise grant we can think about a community share scheme.

(TA): How would the development and the running of the theatre operate?

(DF): We are looking to commercial partners both to run it and for the restoration.

There is space on the site to do enabling development, particularly on the yard on the back.

It could be bijoux flats that we develop, we are looking at options to build above the yard, leaving room to get the trucks in if it does end up becoming a fully fledged lyric theatre capable of hosting West End shows.

The most likely outcome is that we would set up a charitable trust to own it and then we would probably lease it to an operator.

(TA): How much work does the Hippodrome need on its interior?

(DF): I went in around six weeks ago and then again about two weeks ago.

The state of the theatre is pretty much as I expected.

The structure is very sound, it’s just the cracks in the plasterwork and there’s been a lot of water ingress.

The second time we went in, we had to walk through puddles coming through the stage door entrance.

Our architectural advisor said we would probably have to lift it all off and re-fix, which would be an expensive and time-consuming job, but it would then look really superb.


IT has been a pretty dramatic year in the life of the historic Brighton Hippodrome.

At the start of 2015, an £18 million plan to convert the theatre into an eight-screen cinema and restaurant complex seemed the Middle Street venue’s likely future, with planning permission agreed the summer before.

But then in January cinema operators Vue informed campaign group Our Brighton Hippodrome that the regeneration project would no longer go ahead.

Academy Music Group, owners of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Brixton Academy, already had a long lease on the site from previous failed plans to turn the theatre into a live music venue.

They bought the Hippodrome freehold in April and agreed to give a team including the Brighton Hippodrome CIC, the Theatres Trust and Brighton and Hove City Council six months to prepare a business case for bringing back live performances to the Victorian theatre.

That deadline ends in a matter of weeks, but the CIC feel they are now in pole position to take the Hippodrome back to its roots as an adapted variety theatre.

From 1901 some of the biggest names graced the venue’s stage including Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton, Gracie Fields, Max Miller, the Crazy Gang, Laurence Olivier, Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock and Dickie Henderson. Its musical heyday came in the 60s when in consecutive years Roy Orbison headed a line-up that included The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers before the Fab Four returned to the top of the bill followed by the Rolling Stones weeks later.

Its last performance in 1964 lacked the prestige of what had come before – a panto performance of The Frog Prince.

It operated for a short time as a TV studio before being converted into a bingo hall in 1967, remaining so until 2006 before it closed and has remained empty ever since.

Academy Music Group acquired the lease a year later, but their plans to reopen it as a live music venue collapsed over their failure to get a late night licence, before the bid to turn the building into a multi screen cinema with restaurants fell through this year.

Now the CIC hopes the big names return and the good times roll again for a venue that certainly believes in second acts.