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Brick Lane Music Hall has re-opened



Story by Paul Nelson

ONE OF the greatest theatrical comebacks ever is about to be staged in the East End.

Brick Lane Music Hall will re-open its doors in December; this time in a fine Grade II listed Gothic building in Silvertown.

The third time Vincent Hayes has created a music hall venue from scratch, he now believes he has found a permanent home for his popular theatre.

The distinctive atmosphere of Brick Lane Music Hall was once described as one of 'dissenting comic anarchy'. The same journalist was delighted by 'one of the most socially diverse audiences ever found in one room'.

Vincent Hayes' style of entertainment has always attracted audiences from far and wide, from music hall boffins from Scandinavia, to City boys and girls on a night out, amazed at the spectre, long believed extinct, of extended East End families getting their 'good ol' Cockney knees up'.

From The Sunday Times, who named Brick Lane Music Hall as one of the best places in the Country to be entertained while you eat, to Loaded magazine, who labelled it as 'Top notch; brilliant'; the music hall has also gained acclaim from the critics. The Stage said it was 'one of the best nights out in London'.

Yet, for two years, Vincent Hayes has had his theatre packed up in boxes, apparently a victim of its own success.

Each time he has established a venue, first in the former Truman's Brewery, in Brick Lane, in 1992, and then in an old button factory, in Curtain Road, Shoreditch, he has been forced to move out by burgeoning rents.

In 2001, the music hall found itself facing a five-fold rent increase, as the area became a cultural hot-spot. With no public subsidy, the theatre was no longer sustainable.

"It has probably been the longest two years of my life," says Vincent Hayes, on trying to get his venue re-established.

He first approached Tower Hamlets Council for help in finding a building, but finally agreed a deal with Newham Council, which owned a fine building in Silvertown, formerly St. Mark's Church.

Deconsecrated in the Eighties, it was earmarked for community and cultural use.

Vincent was immediately struck by the theatricality of the design of the building, which was designed by the French architect, Samuel Teulon. He felt it already had something of a music hall quality; its gothic spires reminiscent more of a fairy tale castle than an English church.

The building is now fitted out with all the requirements of a modern theatre, including underfloor heating and space for 200 diners in smart restaurant-style seating (pictured above), complete with 'nobs gallery', theatrical murals and much more.

"I'm thrilled with the work", says Hayes. "There's nothing more pressing than a show opening to focus the mind."

Brick Lane Music Hall opens in December.

Running through to March will be 'a pantomime for grown-ups', Sleeping Beauty, very loosely based on the fairy tale and served up with a seasonal supper and plenty of laughs from Brick Lane regulars, Phil Starr, Annabelle Lee and Colin MacLachlan, not to mention Vincent Hayes himself, who comperes the show and keeps the audience on their toes.

As the saying goes - 'there is nowhere quite like Brick Lane Music Hall'.

Established in 1992, Brick Lane Music Hall has flourished for 10 years as a popular and thriving place of entertainment, unique in its ability to survive in a commercial marketplace without subsidy or government funding.

One of the planks of the music hall's success has been the accessibility of its pricing structure and its reputation for offering value for money.

Brick Lane Music Hall was created by Vincent Hayes, a resident of the East End and an established theatre professional with a vision of establishing a community theatre in the old-fashioned style that had made this area so vibrant through so many decades.

Now the only theatre in the country dedicated purely to music hall, the key to its success has been its ability to offer traditional live entertainment of a kind rarely seen these days, together with high standards of catering and hospitality at affordable prices.

Brick Lane Music Hall has attracted a wide variety of artists, including many famous names, as well as classic music hall acts of all kinds.

Laughter is always top of the bill and many people have written that Brick Lane Music Hall is one of the best nights out that they have ever had, combining, as it does, friendly service, traditional entertainment and good value.

A random sample of Brick Lane Music Hall's audience shows that 60% of its evening audience, and 73% of daytime audiences, come from North or East London or Essex.

The remainder largely come from around London and South East England, although, over the years, there have been an incredible range of visitors from all over the world.

Matinee shows largely consist of the elderly, who like nothing better than a good old sing-along. However, evening performances take on a very different flavour.

The entertainment is more riotous and appeals to all ages. There are a surprising number of under 30's and a broad spectrum of social backgrounds, an audience mix which the music hall actively cultivates.

All of the above is carefully coerced, contrived and conditioned by the comic talents of Vincent Hayes, the creator and chairman of this most unusual venue.

Vincent identified the possible demise of The British Music Hall and set about re-creating a historic form of British entertainment in its most authentic style.

His idea was to embrace this unique form of entertainment in an environment that was available to all, much like it was all those years ago.

Music Hall was never simply a collection of artists gathered into a show at the behest of a chairman whose language was gleaned from a Collins dictionary, looking for the most verbose of introductions; it was a show created by the people, for the people. As such, it is interactive with audience participation a vital ingredient.

A typical night at Brick Lane provides a phenomenal fusion of the past, together with the humour of the present. Each show is remarkably different. Each audience helps towards creating their own particular brand of mirth.

Many London-based companies have used Brick Lane Music Hall to host exclusive events, ranging from conferences, to fashion and film shoots. It has also played host to several weddings and many parties.

Brick Lane Music Hall is a registered charity and, supported by its regular audiences and enthusiasts of music hall, takes shows out to the community. Performances are regularly held in hospices, care homes and long-stay hospital wards throughout the East End.

BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL: 020 7511 6655

An evening of rare rapport and sophisticated sauciness awaits discerning pleasure seekers at Brick Lane Music Hall, from December 11, 2003 to March 6, 2004 in the form of Sleeping Beauty.

Billed as a pantomime for grown-ups, it stars Phil Starr, Annabelle Lee, Colin Maclaughlan and Vincent Hayes, with the Jennifer Haley dancers. Musical director is Noel Charles.

Groups and parties welcome. Bar opens 6.30pm, Dinner served 7.30pm.
Accessible from all directions by road and public transport.
Silverlink Service: Silvertown, Underground: Canning Town; DLR: Prince Regent.

Wheelchair access and facilities. Free parking on the premises.
Coach pick-up and set down; coach parking available on-street.

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