BBC Music Magazine
Venue of the month
The UK’S best concert halls
21. Alexandra Palace Theatre
Where: Muswell Hill, London Opened: 1875; 2018
Few concert venues have been put to quite as many different uses over the course of their existence as has the Alexandra Palace Theatre. And that’s when it’s been in use at all. The 2018 reopening of this magnificently ornate auditorium – first with a BBC Prom in September and then on a permanent basis in December – marked the end of years of decline.
Originally built in 1875 as part of the Alexandra Palace centre for entertainment and sports, the theatre opened with a performance of Offenbach’s operetta Breaking the Spell. Able to hold over 2,000 people, it became a popular venue for opera, theatre, concerts and, increasingly, film showings.
Temporarily repurposed as a chapel for foreign detainees in World War I, the theatre was then put to very different use when the BBC took over in 1935 – as a carpentry workshop and props store. The departure of the BBC and arrival of the Open University in 1969 saw little change in its fortunes, and when a fire devastated much of the building in 1980, there seemed little hope.
A recent £18.8m lottery grant, however, has helped to bring this once great venue back to life – nearly 80 years since its last performance.