Sara Colohan writes on the history of London's Hippodrome. Published by www.londoncalling.com

The Reincarnation Of London’s Hippodrome

After a 30-month rebuild and a £40 million spend, the renovation of the former Hippodrome Theatre is about to be revealed. LC met the owners and architect of the new Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square to chat about the buildings history, transformation and rebirth.

The Reincarnation Of London’s Hippodrome

 It’s been a good year for recycling some of London’s abandoned historic buildings. Art Deco Atlantic Bar and Grill has been transformed into the stylish eatery and cabaret venue Zedel, The Pigalle Club and the famous L’Eclipse Anglaise (now The Rose Club) have both had extensive facelifts but none can compare in magnitude and scale to the transformation of London’s Hippodrome. Father and son team Jimmy and Simon Thomas invested over £40 million into this severely damaged and somewhat forgotten edifice on Leister Square, and firmly believe, over their watchful eye, its revival will redefine London’s night life.
This month the London Hippodrome Casino will open its doors after more than two years as a building site. It will house a 180 seated cabaret theatre, a 150 cover restaurant, four private dining rooms and five bars, and hopes to attract tens of thousands of new visitors to the Leicester Square area.
The current guise is indeed impressive, with many of the original features restored, but on delving into the rich history of the building we found the new owners had a hard act to follow. The original Hippodrome was designed in 1900 by renowned architect Frank Matcham, (also responsible for the London Coliseum, Hackney Empire, Victoria Palace and London Palladium) It opened as a circus and variety spectacular with performing animals including horses, snakes, polar bears and elephants. If that wasn’t impressive enough, it had its own troop of acrobatic dwarves diving from the theatre ‘Gods’ into an illuminated pool containing 100,000 gallons of water. Side entrances to the stalls could be flooded so that boats could be floated around the auditorium. A hard act to follow indeed, by anyone’s standards.
Over the years, the artistic direction of the venue varied from hosting the 1910 UK premier of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to Parisian dancing girls The Follies Bergeres in the 1940’s. Gutted in 1957 it reopened with its most famous production Talk of the Town featuring world class performers including Judy Garland, The Andrews Sisters, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra. In more recent years, award winning cabaret La Clique brought a new audience to the venue and was it’s final breath of life before The Hippodrome closed its doors in 2009 in wait for the biggest refurbishment of its illustrious career.
It’s clear by looking around the grand hall as it stands today, the new custodians of the Hippodrome have tried to keep the essence of the original Matcham theatre alive. The architect behind its current transformation, Paula Reason told us about using the history of the building as her inspiration and the challenges that this presented.
“The biggest challenge was the extent of the ‘unknowns’ the building unveiled at each turn, which were both good and bad. We discovered spaces that had been covered up for more than 100 years, we tied the main auditorium into the adjacent Cranbourn Mansions – an ex Bachelor Pad, to extend the volume of the building.  We used the old drawings to work out the original entrance points and features and then developed these areas in sympathy with the original but suitable for the future. Some of the remaining original Matcham masonry became pointers, showing us the original scale and form of the building. It was so exciting when we worked out the original layout of the main entrance.”
Of all its clumsy disfigurations through out the years, ‘Operation Pickaxe’ was the darkest. Triggered by a falling lump of plaster onto an unsuspecting audience member in the 1950’s, it cleared the way for willful, substantial damage wrought to the infrastructure. Almost all the original plasterwork was pulled down along with most of the buildings original framework.
“We have tried our best to restore it to its former glory, reinstating hundreds of original features, including the central ornate glass elevator but there was so much damage done during Operation Pickaxe it was painstaking work. We removed all the false ceilings and studied the original plasterwork design and remolded it. Using a combination of different historical references from original drawings, newspaper articles, posters and programmes we tried to stay true to the origins of the building and make The Hippodrome the unique destination in the heart of London’s West End again. There’s really nowhere else like it in the world.”
Whether we enjoy a flutter or not, the splendor of the grand hall is undeniable and the new proprietors must be commended for remaining historically and architecturally sympathetic to the original Matcham design. It’s also commendable that the Hippodrome has created over 400 new jobs, much welcomed by job seeking Londoners in the current economic times.
There’s certainly no argument that this impressive transformation marks a grand new beginning for this much loved venerable theatre.
The Hippodrome Casino opens 12 July.
Opening week features Tony Christie and Miss Polly Rae’s Between The Sheets See www.hippodromecasino.com for more deatils.
Author: Sara Colohan
Camille O’Sullivan. Architect, singer, performer…superstar!
Camille O’Sullivan. Architect, singer, performer…superstar


Sebastian Horsley, written by Sara Colohan for Londoncalling.com

Rebel Without Applause

"Look at me. I am a useless dandy. I am almost bankrupt."
His writings and lifestyle choices have fascinated a world wide audience since he first gained the attention of the international art world in 2000. Sebastian Horsley, The Dandy of Soho was more than just a dashing dandy, more than a familiar novelty sighting in the dark streets of Soho; he was a complex charismatic life force with a flamboyant, morbid curiosity of the underworld, the vicinity in which he spent most of his time and money.
Fortunately, the legend of Sebastian Horsley still thrives through his many friends and fans and the various creative legacies he has left behind. Saturday 16th June launched this intimate exhibition of his works and personal effects in the perfectly suited Dickensian surrounds of The Last Tuesday Society HQ
His friend and curator of this upcoming reliquary Viktor Wynd described his existence as ‘living a life poised between Saville Row and Death Row, trying to find a balance between vanity and insanity.’ How fitting these were Sebastian Horsleys own words.

Like many talented and tormented people before him, he died from an accidental overdose in 2010 at the age of 47, an early death he inadvertently pre empted in his blog in January 2008. ‘It is January. Another fucking year. Look at me. I am a useless dandy. I am almost bankrupt. I will either commit suicide or die at the age of 45 because I will have said all there is to say …’
He unabashedly admitted to having enjoyed and endured more than his share of the world’s gratuitous highs and lows and famously said ‘I invested 90% of my substantial family fortune on prostitutes and gambling and the remaining 10% on class A drugs’. His now tranquil house on Soho’s Meard Street needlessly brandishes its notorious plaque: ‘This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address’.

In an effort to capture the essence of this man most of us have never met, but so many of us remember, whether that memory is a faint sighting of his unmistakable figure through the streets of Soho or following his highly entertaining blog, this reliquary will display favoured items from his crackpot and ashtray, used syringes, salt shaker, his diary open on the day he died, the keys to his flat, his book of whores, a jaw & teeth from his collection of human skulls, the human arm he stole from St. Martins, a Comme des Garcons shoe, a pair of sunglasses & his Grow Your Own Hooker Kit.
Some of his paintings are also on view, together with suits, sculptures - including his powerful grid of human skulls, the video of his crucifixion (the only westerner ever to be crucified in the Philippines annual ritual 2000), press cuttings, pieces directly from his studio wall and the farewell notes pinned on his door after his death. It may surprise you that everything is for sale, ranging from £350 to £4,000

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition DJ Dickon Edwards played the music that Sebastian worshipped. "All art is failed music," he wrote in an article about his twelve favourite songs. "Music has saved more lives than the Samaritans and God put together. I would throw all the paintings that have ever been painted, all the books that have ever been written and all the films that have ever been filmed into the Atlantic Ocean for these twelve tracks."


20th Century Boy - T Rex
Word On A Wing - David Bowie
Personality Crisis - New York Dolls
C'mon and love me (Alive! version) - KISS
Public Image - Public Image Limited
Further Than We've Gone - Captain Beefheart
Public Image Limited - Death Disco
Under The Ivy - Kate Bush
Pixies - The Happening
Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
Double Talkin Jive - Guns n Roses
Decades - Joy Division
Maybe this unique, damaged, extraordinary rebel will get his applause after all.

Sebastian Horsley: a Reliquary - Saturday 16th June, 4 - 8pm; Exhibition runs 16th June - 1st September.
The Last Tuesday Society HQ, 11 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8 4RP 

Author: Sara Colohan