Brighton Hippodrome

Hippodrome, Brighton’s most important variety theatre.

Brighton Hippodrome is an entertainment venue in the ancient centre of Brighton, part of the English city of Brighton and Hove. It has been dark since 2007.

From its construction in 1897 it has hosted an ice rink, circus acts, variety theatre, vaudeville shows and bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The flamboyantly decorated interior, with a large auditorium and Rococo embellishments, survives and English Heritage has listed the building at Grade II* for its architectural and historical importance.

In 1900 the site of Brighton Ice Rink was sold for conversion into a theatre. Frank Matcham, a prolific theatre architect, was engaged to enlarge and rebuild the interior.

The building was renamed The Hippodrome and reopened in its new form in 1901. The following year, more work was carried out, and on 22 December 1902 the Hippodrome reopened as a variety theatre and circus.

Theatre entrepreneur Thomas Barrasford managed the Hippodrome, which quickly became Brighton’s most important variety theatre.

Shows of all types were staged there, and top-name entertainers such as Sarah Bernhardt, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gracie Fields, Harry Houdini, Buster Keaton, Lillie Langtry and Laurel and Hardy appeared.

Laurence Olivier played the venue early in his stage career—but fell over on his first entrance on his début.

One of Charlie Chaplin’s first roles was a bit-part in theatre impresario Fred Karno’s comedy Saturday to Monday, staged in May 1907; and Vivien Leigh gave an acclaimed performance in George Bernard Shaw’s play The Doctor’s Dilemma.

Local stars also featured: Max Miller, the Brighton-born music hall entertainer and comedian, appeared on many occasions during the mid-20th century; and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, whose vaudeville career began in their home town in 1911 at the age of three, topped the bill with their variety show.

The venue’s early success led to expansion in 1939: it was extended on the north side, increasing the capacity of its main auditorium to 1,400. Its overall capacity was 3,000, although an attendance of 4,500 was recorded on one occasion.