Exciting times abound at Ally Pally. After 15 years of dogged campaigning by Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust and Friends of the Theatre, the restoration of Alexandra Palace’s secret Victorian Theatre is on the home run. With just £1m remaining to raise for this historic £27m project, a dedicated fund raising site has been launched: support.alexandrapalace.co.uk.
Since the catastrophic fire of 1980, which narrowly missed the theatre, 40% of the Grade II listed Palace has remained derelict – a tall maintenance order for a registered charity as the Trust is. But thanks to their and the Friends’ efforts, supported by local actors including Maureen Lipman, Juliet Stevenson and Bill Paterson, Spring 2018 will see a restored East Wing finally opening and Ally Pally once more transformed into a major cultural destination.
The restoration plans focus on celebrating the palace’s trailblazing position in the history of popular entertainment. First as a state-of-the-art Victorian theatre, opened in 1875, then as a cinema in 1907, with one of the oldest surviving projection boxes in the UK, and then as the birthplace of television, transmitting the first broadcast in 1936 with Elizabeth Cowell’s immortal line, “This is direct television from the studios of Alexandra Palace….”
Within two years, these old BBC studios will be an interactive museum, showcasing the history of television through virtual and augmented reality exhibits; and the glazed East Court will become a welcoming public space, including a café, a planned theatre and cinema interpretation and an exhibition space. The bricked up arches will be opened up into the original foyer of the Victorian Theatre, revealing a spacious bar and the theatre itself – a rare, unknown gem of theatrical history.
“The theatre has been hidden away for over 80 years, which has created a unique and atmospheric space which you can’t fail to be moved by,” explains Louise Stewart, Chief Executive of Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust. The plans, by award-winning architects Studios and theatre designers Charcoalblue, aim to preserve this atmosphere and, while creating a functional, flexible space capable of seating up to 1,300, are at pains not to over-restore the old theatre; stabilizing its beautiful plasterwork, but keeping that soul and history, chips, fades and all.
A stake in #MyAllyPally …
All this has been made possible by an £18.8m Heritage Lottery Fund contribution and Haringey Council funding of £6.8m. A further £1m is to be raised by summer 2017 through public funding. “Alexandra Palace is the original ‘People’s Palace’, held in trust for the public to enjoy forever,” says Stewart, “so we are appealing to the public to help us to make sure that this truly wonderful space can once again delight and entertain them, the audience it was intended for.”
This includes opportunities for a physical stake in the building, a chance to become a part of the next phase of its colourful history; from a £25 donation, securing your name on a donor board to a plaque on a theatre seat for donations of £450 or £900. Every pound will make a difference, however, and between us we can see the old girl doing what she was built to do: entertaining the community again.
For further information or to donate go to support.alexandrapalace.com