Lonely Planet Writer

London’s once hidden Victorian theatre at Alexandra Palace is reopening soon

In north London, hidden inside the stately structure of Alexandra Palace, which first opened in 1863, lies a stunning Victorian theatre. Officially unveiled in 1875, the theatre was originally used to house a string of spectacular productions to crowds of up to 3000, before going on to be used as a chapel, a cinema and later a BBC prop store and workshop. While it is undoubtedly impressive and eye-catching, the space has not been used for regular performances for over 80 years. But that is all about to change, as it has just been announced that the theatre will open its doors once again following a multi-million pound restoration.

An artist's impression of the theatre during a performance.
An artist’s impression of the theatre during a performance. Image by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Dubbed ‘London’s oldest new theatre’, the Alexandra Palace Theatre is set to officially reopen on 1 December. Announced by Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust, the theatre will first host a special performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra on 1 September, who will perform Gilbert and Sullivan’s one-act operetta Trial by Jury which premiered in 1875, the same year the theatre opened. Following that, the theatre will close once more to complete the final phase of the project for reopening three months later. The December bill includes a Horrible Histories Christmas special as well as performances from comedian Dylan Moran and choirmaster Gareth Malone.

The Alexandra Palace Theatre during construction.
The Alexandra Palace Theatre during construction. Image by LLoyd Winters

The £27 million ($36 million) restoration of the palace’s east wing began in 2015, following the awarding of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Haringey Council. The work saw the theatre’s floor being flattened, with a new sub floor replacing the crumbling Victorian dwarf walls, while each of the floorboards have been individually lifted and re-numbered and will be re-laid. Higher up, the decorative ceiling and roof has been strengthened with new steel trusses, to ensure the character of the space is retained.

The theatre before restoration began. Image by Miles Willis/Getty Images

“London has many theatres, but none are like Alexandra Palace Theatre. We want to capture the fun and playfulness by presenting an engaging programme that provides the opportunity for a diverse range of audiences to engage and enjoy the space. We want people to draw breath when they walk in, and feel that they are discovering a found space which has been lost for generations. The theatre’s design captures it in a beautiful state of arrested decay – blending the faded Victorian grandeur with contemporary technology, which means the auditorium is flexible and capable of hosting productions in a number of configurations,” said Emma Dagnes, Deputy Chief Executive at Alexandra Park and Palace.

An artist’s rending of a banquet at the theatre. Image by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

A marvel of Victorian engineering in its heyday, the stage’s machinery enabled performers to appear, disappear and fly across the stage, and today, Alexandra Palace is currently working with Lincoln Conservation to map the preserved understage machinery and understand how it would have worked. The auditorium has been reconfigured to seat almost 900, with a standing capacity of around 1300, and can support a number of different productions. The East Court will also re-open in December, transforming how the public interacts with the palace. Open throughout the day, it will welcome everyone from early morning park users to evening concert goers, and will showcase the rich history of the palace through exhibitions, art and utilising new technology like virtual and augmented reality. Alexandra Palace is also surrounded by 196 acres of Grade II listed parkland and offers stunning views of the city.

Members of the public have been invited to support the restoration of the theatre through a public fundraising campaign, enabling them to name a seat in the theatre, while all donations of £25 ($34) or over will be commemorated on a Donor Board to be installed in the East Court, celebrating the public’s role in this restoration of the palace.

More information on visiting Alexandra Palace is available at the official website.