4 October 2016

The Alexandra Palace Theatre

On Tuesday 27th September I went up to Ally Pally for a tour of the old theatre that has lain unused and dilapidated for decades.
Ally Pally, The Peoples' Palace, opened in opened in May 1873 and the first theatre within it was built to stage "operatic and dramatic performances". The theatre was, at that time, a state-of-the-art venue special safety features by Grieve and Son including "lavish back-stage facilities" all new to the country at that time.
1) The Transmitter Tower steps feature lovely decorative AP-themed handrails; a device that is echoed all over the complex. 2) The frontage of the building displaying a poster for the theatre renovation. 3) The theatre reception hall (which will be converted into a foyer with a bar area to the rear). 4) Entrance to the main auditorium.
A few weeks later, on 9th June 1873, Ally Pally burned down caused by "a morsel of red hot charcoal" being dropped by workmen repairing the lead on the Great Dome. Despite the theatre's safety measures it was destroyed along with the whole complex in a fierce fire that took hold rapidly.
A meeting was called on the actual day of the fire to discuss rebuilding whole site. The second theatre, the one we see today, opened in 1875, although not to the same design. It had even greater fire and safety measures again designed by Grieve and Son.
On entering the auditorium that used to seat 2,500 people, I couldn't help but imagine how marvellous this use space must have been in its Victorian heyday with its decorative mouldings and fabulous curved upper balcony.
Details and traces of paint remain intact – these will be sympathetically restored in the same way as at Wilton's Music Hall.
Damage has set in over the years and, sadly,  a lot of the deterioration was exacerbated by the BBC using the space as a store room for heavy props.
Restoration work began in 2011. A lot of work has already taken place but, as you can see, there's so much more to do and this will need in excess of £1million funding in order to get this beautiful old interior ready for the public.
Moulded arched sections on each side may not have been original – it's suggested these may have been part of an old theatre set. The ceiling is at the moment secured with rows of batons and tape which will be removed at a later date.
The venue was subsequently used to show films. The projection room, a much later addition, is still there, jutting out into the curved upper level.

The stairs that lead down from the projection room, the room itself, the view from it, and a pencilled "wot no..." Kilroy-esque cartoon on the wall nearby.
The backstage area is exceptionally large for its type. Sadly, we were not able to view the under stage area to see where all the special lifting and shifting stage mechanics were housed.

The corridor to the left of the theatre borders what is now the ice rink. From the stage there is a great view of the 2,500 seat auditorium. Old curtains were still in place, hanging torn and dirty. Three different conference chairs amused me as they looked completely out of place amongst the old wood and Victorian fittings. 

On the day I was there the vast Great Hall was empty as it was between exhibitions so we popped in for a closer look and clearer view of the Willis Organ and Rose Window. It was really strange to see the place so empty as I have only been in there for live gigs and exhibitions.


More info about Ally Pally on the website

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