Plans to redevelop the Hippodrome will prevent the theatre from ever being used as a large-scale venue, says a national trust.

The Theatres Trust, the national advisory body for theatres, warned that proposals put forward by owners Matsim are “fundamentally unworkable” to accommodate certain musical acts at the Brighton venue.

In a response to a planning consultation, the trust said that, while the stated use of the Hippodrome is for a “multi-format live performance space”, “the plans resemble more of a conference/function venue with cabaret seating and linked bar spaces”.

The trust said: “There needs to be a proper understanding of how the venue will be utilised, a credible business plan and an indicative programme.

“Without understanding the programme, the impact and needs of technical requirements, audience numbers, traffic impact and neighbourhood disturbance are difficult to ascertain.”

Director of the Theatres Trust Jon Morgan praised Matsim for its investment in restoring the Hippodrome, in Middle Street, but said talk of hosting big-name acts would not be feasible under the proposals.

He said: “We applaud the passion and the investment the current owner Matsim has made towards protecting the Hippodrome from further deterioration and to developing a potential future use for the theatre.

“There has been much excitement about acts like the Rolling Stones who played here in the past returning, but sadly if the current scheme goes ahead, the venue won’t be capable of hosting anything more than DJs and performers with limited equipment.

“Unfortunately, we believe the current plans are fundamentally unworkable, will not provide a space suitable for the mixed-use performance programme they hope for and will prevent the theatre ever returning as a large-scale venue.”

In response, a spokesman for Matsim said they were “really shocked and disappointed” by the trust’s comments and described them as “unsubstantiated” and “unhelpful”.

He said: “We met with them three times to run through our plans and respond to their concerns and provide an explanation as to the level of professional and expert input we have had in the development of these plans.

“Throughout these meetings, they have never substantiated any of their concerns with evidence and we can’t help but feel that they have had a pre-determined view that was unwilling to take on board our responses in our consultation with them.

“We have invested over £4 million of our own money in the building to save it being lost - all against the backdrop of a pandemic, the worst build cost inflation in a generation and now an economic crisis.

“These unsubstantiated comments are unhelpful to say the least."

He said the Hippodrome’s most viable future is as a versatile venue that can “host performance of all kinds” and Matsim is committed to restoring the auditorium to its former glory.

“If the Theatres Trust were truly there to protect these buildings, then one would expect a little more positivity as, at the end of the day, they will have a restored building," he said.
The Hippodrome, built in 1897, has hosted an ice rink, circus acts, a variety theatre and bands such as The Beatles, but fell into disrepair after closing in 2006.