Can we afford to lose the most important unused theatre in the UK?
Hippodrome exterior

The future: alternative to theatre


Matsim's proposal

¶ The current project is based on an apart-hotel built around the auditorium. The hotel will be built on the yard and in the two upper floors of Hippodrome House.
¶ Serviced offices will be built into in the fly-tower.
¶ The auditorium will be a food hall on three levels, descending from the entrance level towards the stage, with table seating on two levels plus the first-floor circle. Food stalls will be located along one side of the auditorium, with bars in the stage boxes and in a well in front of the stage and two in the circle.
¶ The front of the stage will be retained for performances. At the rear of the current stage, separated by a corridor from the third of the stage remaining in front, will be one male and one female dressing room and a green room. The rest of the stage and wings at stage left will be used for 'dark kitchens'.
¶ Based on published plans, the capacity will be just short of 400 for drink and food, with a little over 100 theatre-style seats retained in part of the circle.

¶ In Hippodrome House the ground floor will be divided between an open space for miscellaneuous use, toilets and the hotel coffee shop. The upper floors will be apartments for the hotel.

¶ This is how Matsim presents the proposal:
'a dynamic, ever changing experience, not only throughout the week, but throughout the day. Potential uses and activities include: Morning yoga classes, pre-work coffees, conferences, co-working, lunchtime restaurant offers, performance and theatre, talks, stand up comedy, live sport, film and fine dining.'
¶ It is not clear whether Matsim has a fully worked business plan for these proposals. Some of the proposals are familiar from the CIC's business plan, which was shared with Matsim.

You can see Matsim's current plans HERE.


Argus front page

Press coverage implies that the theatre is to be restored. Reporting, however, mentions its beginning as an ice skating rink and ending as a bingo hall but downplays—almost to the point of non-existence—the Hippodrome's illustrious history as a lyric theatre, one of the most famous and most important variety venues in the country for six decades.

What if this scheme went ahead and someone attracted in for a drink looked around and said, 'Wow! But hang on, didn't this used to be a theatre? that would be even better.' Too late.

Key questions

1 Is it viable?
2 Is it sustainable?
3 What will it do for the local economy?
4 Will it attract tourists to Brighton?
5 Will it add to the cultural infrastructure of the city?
6 Will it lead the regeneration of the Old Town?
7 Does this option have popular support?

Our assessment

1: Viability
There is no doubt that the Hippodrome is such a magnificent building inside that it will attract people who know about it just to look in—but how often? In the end a public building can only be as successful as what is on offer inside.

2: Sustainability
So what is on offer inside?
      A collection of bars and a food court would be in serious competition with a large number of other establishments in the Old Town: the list here includes 48 restaurants and 28 pubs, bars and cafés—all within a few minutes' walk of the Hippodrome. One of the latest is the Shelter Hall, on the seafront opposite West Street, now open as a food hall with music acts. Literally adjoining the Hippodrome is the former Coach House, now re-opened as Burnt Orange, a restaurant with music, for which Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) is the advisor. That the list changes frequently and may already be out of date suggests something about sustainability in such a competitive market.
      The performance possibilities on offer at the Hippodrome are limited. The Hippodrome has one of the largest stages in the country—certainly bigger than most West End theatres from which touring shows originate—but at least two-thirds of its depth will be lost in the Matsim scheme. This means the likely offer will be stand-up comedy and music shows that do not require much space. In other words, nothing for which there is not (more than) adequate provision in Brighton already. The bigger names will still go to the Dome, Brighton Centre, the Theatre Royal, Komedia and The Old Market. Which leaves the performers who already appear at the smaller venues.
      All of this, especially the core drink and food offer, will be entering an already competitive market, as the listings in the boxes at right amply demonstrate. Moreover, is the Hippodrome auditorium's cavernous space capable of sustaining a performance business model usually associated with more intimate spaces?

3: The local economy
Little is being added: the proposal duplicates what is already available at other venues in abundance. The likely impact will be to divert some trade away from other venues, merely moving trade around a bit to the potential detriment of one place or another in a static market.
      It should be noted that with drinking as a key component of this proposal, the Hippodrome is in a cumulative impact zone, where licensing objectives aim to reduce the chances of public disorder, nuisance and crime. A previous plan, developed by Academy Music Group (AMG) between 2007 and 2012, to use the Hippodrome for a music venue was abandoned because a licence was virtually certain to be opposed by the authorities.
      The hotel part of the scheme can be welcomed for the potential to bring visitors into the city, although there is an argument that that there is a greater need for residential accommodation. And, of course, visitors who stay at the Hippodrome hotel will not stay elsewhere; there is no certainty of increasing the overall number of visitors.

4: Tourist economy
How far will the appeal of another drinking/eating place/comedy club stretch? Middle Street is not a much-frequented location at present and without a magnetic attraction capable of standing out in a competitive market, it must be questioned whether visitors to the city will be drawn away from the main streets, however magnificent the surroundings once encountered. How long will such a place, necessarily with artificial lighting, appeal to locals without a unique proposition?

5: Cultural infrastructure
Nothing is being added that is not extensively available elsewhere.

6: Old Town regeneration
The Hippodrome has been a worsening blight on the area for a decade and a half. Bringing it back into use will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect, whatever use that may be. But increasing and sustaining enough footfall to encourage development that will enliven the rest of Middle Street and the wider area probably needs more than more of the same.

7: Popular support
There was a surge of enthusiasm when the news of the prospect of revival broke. On one level many will be glad simply to have the building cleaned up and opened. However, many have expressed disappointment that the prospect of a theatre is not going to happen, contrary to the expectations raised by the publicity (see above left).

In the Old Town, within about five minutes of the Hippodrome

Eat-in food
Burnt Orange, Middle Street*
Chamuyo, Middle Street
Sushimania, Middle Street
The Coal Shed, Boyce's Street
Thai Spice, Boyce's Street
Curry Leaf Café, Ship Street
The Ivy, Ship Street
Browns, Duke Street
Browns Brasserie and Bar, Duke Street
Honest Burgers, Duke Street
No 32, Duke Street
Brand Sixteen Eateries, Duke's Lane
Nando's, Duke Street
Patty & Bun, Ship Street
Petit Pois Restaurant, Ship Street
Dos Sombreros, Ship Street
Casa Don Carlos, Union Street
Riddle & Finns, Meeting House Lane
64 Degrees, Meeting House Lane
Bohemia Brighton, Meeting House Lane
Olive Grove, Meeting House Lane
The Flint House, Hanningtons Lane
Donatello, Brighton Place
D'Arcy's, Market Street
Il Bistro, Market Street
Sugardough, Market Street
The Pump House, Market Street
Bella Italia, Market Street
The Breakfast Club, Market Street
Giggling Squid, Market Street
Pizza Express, Prince Albert Street
Food for Friends, Prince Albert Street
Gars, Prince Albert Street
Zizzi, Prince Albert Street
Shogun Ramen, Prince Albert Street
Pho, Black Lion Street
English's of Brighton, East Street
Ollie's Jerk Shack, Brighton Square
The Vurger Co, Brighton Place
Indian Summer, East Street
Terre à Terre, East Street
Socialite Restaurant and Bar*, East Street
The House Restaurant, East Street
The House, East Street
Med, Little East Street
Moshimo, Bartholomew Square
Touro Brazilian Steakhouse, West Street
Shelter Hall, King's Road (food hall)*

Pubs, Bars, Cafés
The Victory, Middle Street
The Hop Poles, Middle Street
Mungo's Bar, South Street
The Bootlegger, Middle Street**
Twisted Lemon, Middle Street
Fiddler's Elbow, Boyce's Street*
Seven Stars, Ship Street
The Walrus, Ship Street
Coho Café, Ship Street
Trading Post Coffee, Ship Street
Marwood Coffee House, Ship Street
Pub Du Vin, Ship Street
Rendezvous Tea House, Café and Art Gallery, Duke Street
The Font, Union Street
Bath Arms, Meeting House Lane
That Little Tea Shop in the Lanes, Meeting House Lane
The Mesmerist, Prince Albert Street*
Caffè Nero, Prince Albert Street*
The Cricketers, Black Lion Street
Lost in the Lanes, Nile Street
The Black Lion, Black Lion Street
The Market Inn, Market Street
The Pipeline, Little East Street
The Sussex Arms, East Street
East Street Tap, East Street
Pret a Manger, East Street
Molly Malones, West Street*
Revolution, West Street
* with live music
** with live music and comedy

other than theatre; all stage comedy and/or music

The Dome, Church Street
The Corn Exchange, Church Street
The Brighton Centre, King's Road
The Old Market, Upper Market Street
Komedia, Gardner Street
The Warren on the Beach, Madeira Drive
The Electric Arcade, Madeira Drive
Casablanca Jazz Club
The Rialto, Duke Street
The Brunswick, Waterloo Street
Latest Music Bar, Manchester Street
Ohso Social,

Smaller comedy venues
Brighton Comedy Club, The Richmond, Richmond Place
The Secret Comedy Club, Arista Cafe & Gallery, Waterloo Street
Chalk, Pool Valley
Brighton Music Hall, King's Road Arches
On the Edge Comedy, Caroline of Brunswick, Ditchling Road
Duke of Wellington, Upper Gloucester Road
The Comedy Basement, Sweet Old Steine, Old Steine
Comedy Cult, Upper Lewes Road
. . . and more, especially during the Brighton Festival Fringe
*with food and/or drink

For theatres see The future: a major theatre

Image: Matsim's scaffolding on the Hippodrome's Middle Street frontage

Page updated 18 August 2021