Why a theatre?
The Hippodrome was designed as a theatre. It was used as a theatre. It still is a theatre—albeit a dark and empty one at the moment. It was given its Grade II* listing because it is a theatre. Its very nature is theatre.
It is a performance space—one of only three remaining in the whole of the UK that still has a circular auditorium, dating from its days as a circus, literally a hippodrome—that could be used in a wide variety of configurations:
⚫ as a conventional stage with a proscenium arch,
⚫ as a thrust stage, projecting out from the main stage
⚫ for theatre-in-the-round, with the performance area closely surrounded by audience,
⚫ for arena productions, with the seats removed from the central space.
This means it could be used for drama, West End musicals, opera or ballet, with a proscenium or thrust stage, for theatre-in-the-round or circus. Not to mention many other events, such as snooker (the Crucible of the south), wrestling, dancing (Strictly...?), large-screen cinema, conferences.
You imagine what you'd like to see and write to tell us.
Making it happen
Restoration as a theatre is the preferred option of all who have a say in the matter: Brighton & Hove City Council, English Heritage, the Theatres Trust and you, if you have signed up to support the campaign. To become a theatre once more, the Hippodrome needs a business plan that is as viable as the cinema proposition. We believe this is possible and so we are working hard to produce that plan.
The city enjoys a remarkably vibrant entertainment and cultural life. The one thing missing is a theatre of this size. It needs one to complement the Theatre Royal, the Dome concert hall, the Brighton Centre, and all the other popular theatre, music and comedy venues. The City Council says there is such a need. Even the developers say there is such a need.
Why not a cinema?
The proposal to convert the Hippodrome into an eight-screen cinema came from Vue Entertainment, a Canadian-owned company that is one of the most successful cinema exhibition companies in the country. It operates 82 cinemas in the UK but not one in the south-east of England. The nearest are at Portsmouth and Croydon. Obviously, and for very good reasons, Vue would like to get into this area. the company is so keen that it is also down to have a nine-screen cinema in the proposed six-acre £100m development west of Hove station, planned by Matsim Properties.
Brighton already has two eight-screen multiplex cinemas: the Odeon at Kingswest on the seafront and Cineworld at the Marina. It also has the much-loved Duke of York's at Preston Circus and its newer sibling in the Picturehouse chain, Duke's @ Komedia, which has rapidly earned a loyal and enthusiastic following. Hove has not had a cinema since 1981, when the Embassy in Western Road (on the boundary between the two boroughs) closed. Before that the Granada closed in 1974. So that's a total of 19 screens in one half of the city.
Too much in one place
By some standards, the city is 'under-screened', to use the jargon, and may have room for another cinema. Hull has roughly the same size of population as Brighton & Hove but has 29 screens—10 more. Cambridge has 20 screens but only half the population. On the other hand, measured in terms of screens per 1,000 population, the city of Brighton & Hove is slightly above the UK average. (But then, statistics can be used to prove anything if you try hard enough.)
The geographical spread and concentration of screens into fewer and fewer cinemas has become an issue as the number of multiplexes has grown. One 10-screen cinema may be more economically viable than 10 single-screen cinemas. But that one cinema is in just one place, not 10. The smaller venues are now beginning to come back, thanks to digital technology. Cinemas like the Dukes @ Komedia are part of an upward trend.
The Hippodrome is only 150 yards from the Odeon at Kingswest as the crow flies—and only 300 yards going round the streets. The cinema proposal for the Hippodrome would create a concentration of 16 screens in a very small area. The two complexes would show the same films. Cinemagoers would choose between one cinema or the other, dividing the audience between the two sites. As the newer cinema, the Hippodrome might have the edge over the Odeon. But the audience size overall would remain the same. Could both survive in those circumstances? Probably not.
It would make much better sense for Vue to go all out for the Hove station option, or even consider building from scratch at, say, King Alfred, for which there have been schemes mooted in the past.
Not a cinema!
This argument is now overtaken by events. Vue Entertainment, which was to have operated the eight-screen cinema, is no longer involved in the project. It is most unlikely that any other cinema operator would want to replace Vue, so the cinema scheme is dead.
Nonetheless, we leave this page in place just in case.
For more information about the cinemas of Brighton and Hove and their history, see Cinema-by-Sea: Film and Cinema in Brighton & Hove since 1896.