1900 – 1909: The Circus of Varieties

Opening on 15 January 1900 and designed by the leading theatrical architect, Frank Matcham, the new Hippodrome Theatre offered ‘an entertainment of unexampled genius’. Its first decade was devoted to a range of the finest, crowd-pleasing  acts from around the world including acrobats, strongmen (and women), sopranos, cyclists, illusionists, equestriennes, jugglers, clowns and lion tamers.

The highlight of every show was a sensational ‘water spectacle’ in which the Hippodrome’s arena filled with water – you can see the elliptical shape of the pool in Lola’s on the lower ground floor. Daredevil divers splashed into the pool from the roof above and melodramas invariably climaxed with the villain meeting a watery end.

1910 – 1920: Ragtime and Revue

As the Edwardian era drew to a close, the Hippodrome underwent a reinvention, moving away from novelty acts and instead offered its audience a sophisticated menu of dance, music and short plays, designed to culturally enrich as well as entertain. New dance forms were celebrated including the first performance in the UK of Tchaikovsy’s Swan Lake by the Russian State Ballet took place in 1910.

It kept abreast of the latest trends and blazed a trail for revues inspired by the latest crazes brought over from America. ‘Hullo Ragtime’ and ‘Hullo Tango’ celebrated these new sounds and steps. This included the first ever UK jazz performance by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in the 1918 revue, Joy Bells.

1920’s & 1930’s: The comedy musical

The inter-war period saw the Hippodrome embrace the vogue for comedy musicals, with shows such as Mercenary Mary and Sunny enjoying long runs and cementing the star status of lead actors such as Binnie Hale, Jack Buchanan, Elsie Randolph and Bobbie Howes. There was also the continued tradition of lavish pantomime, while the late 1930s saw a new form of glamorous revue, many starring the vivacious ‘blonde bombshell’ Frances Day, introduced by producer George Black and masterminded by a man who would go on to have a long and successful association with the Hippodrome, Robert Nesbitt who later founded the world-famous Talk of the Town.

1939 – 1957: Wartime and post-war

The Hippodrome was determined to give audiences glamorous spectacle, despite the shadow of war. The popular revue ‘Black Velvet’, with costumes by Norman Hartnell, was an enormous hit, even attended by the King and Queen in the autumn of 1939. Post-war, in 1947, the revue Starlight Roof featured a twelve-year-old singing sensation – Julie Andrews. Another star to pass through the Hippodrome on the way to superstardom was Audrey Hepburn, who appeared in 1948’s High Button Shoes just two years before being cast in Roman Holiday. The Hippodrome’s reputation for high octane glamour continued with the arrival of the Folies Bergere revue show from the Paris in the early 1950s while the decade ended with the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Johnnie Ray, and the inimitable Shirley Bassey.

1958 – 1982: The Talk of the Town

Following an extensive refurbishment, the Hippodrome reopened in 1958 with a fanfare, a mid-century modern makeover and a new name – The Talk of the Town. Billed as a ‘theatre restaurant’, guests could enjoy spectacular floor shows combining music, dance, lighting and dazzling costumes, followed by the star slot in which everyone from Stevie Wonder to Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones to Cliff Richard took their place over the years.

In December 1968 and January 1969, the legendary Judy Garland appeared at the Talk of the Town, in a residency that was by turns disastrous and brilliant.

1983 – 2005: The Greatest Disco in the World

Legendary club owner, impresario and entrepreneur Peter Stringfellow purchased the old Talk of the Town, vowing to make it into the greatest disco in the world. He reinstated the Hippodrome’s name, using it in a branding campaign that was as flamboyant as his own ambitions for the venue.

The Hippodrome nightclub was bold and brash, appealing to everyone from Sloane Rangers to Essex boys and girls, with a state-of-the-art light and sound system, and outrageous themed events starring drag star, Divine, as well as special nights for the gay crowd, the first time a mainstream mega-club had catered to a gay audience.

July 13th 2012 – Present

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