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Empire Cinemas - London Haymarket

63-65 Haymarket,
London, SW1Y 4RQ

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Cineworld Haymarket

Designed for either film or stage use by Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Pictures Inc., it was envisaged as a smaller version of their Plaza Theatre in nearby Lower Regent Street. The Carlton Theatre opened on 27th April 1927 with a musical play “Lady Luck” starring Leslie Henson which ran for 324 performances. This was followed by a musical comedy drama “The Yellow Mask” by Edgar Wallace which transferred to His Majesty’s Theatre along the Haymarket. The next production was the American college life musical “Good News”. After this closed the Carlton Theatre screened its first film when, on 26th March 1928 “Wings” starring Clara Bow & Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers had its UK premiere run of four months. Returning to stage shows, a revue “In Other Words” starred George Robey at the end of 1928 and the last stage show to play at the Carlton Theatre was “Merry Merry” starring Peggy O'Neil which opened in February 1929 and later transfered to the Lyceum Theatre.

Seating was provided for a total capacity of 1,159 in stalls (which were below street level), a small mezzanine Royal circle at street level and a large upper balcony. There were boxes containing seating each side of the proscenium opening. The proscenium was 42 feet wide, the stage was 45 feet deep and there were 14 dressing rooms.

The Carlton Theatre was wired for sound in 1929 and went over to become a full-time cinema. The first regular film to be screened was Chester Morris in “The Perfect Alibi”(aka-“Alibi”). Paramount Pictures Inc. took over the Carlton Theatre fully in 1930.

On 1st March 1954 it was taken over by 20th Century-Fox and became the West End showcase cinema for their CinemaScope productions, opening with the UK premiere of “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” starring Gilbert Roland & Robert Wagner (the second CinemaScope production after “The Robe”). The stage was brought back into use briefly in March 1960, when Anthony Newley performed in “The Anthony Newley Show”, a special show which was staged during the run of his feature film “Let’s Get Married”. The World Premiere of “Guns at Batasi” was held on 24th September 1964. The World Premiere of “The Flight of the Phoenix” was held at the Carlton Theatre on 20th January 1966. The Royal World Premiere of “A Countess from Hong Kong” was held on 5th January 1967. Directed by Charlie Chaplin and starring Marlon Brando & Sophia Loren, Chaplin, Brando & Loren were among the attendees at the premiere.

There were hopes that the Carlton Theatre would be designated a Grade II Listed building, but it was turned down by English Heritage. The Carlton Theatre closed on 20th August 1977 with Oliver Reed in “The Prince and the Pauper”(aka-“Crossed Swords”) being the last film to be screened in the original single auditorium. The stage and dressing room block was sold off to developers and were demolished for an office block to be built on the site, known as Samuel House.

The auditorium was split into three screens, with screen 1 in the old upper balcony seating 491 and screens 2 and 3 in the former stalls seating 201 and 222. The former mezzanine Royal circle was sealed off and became office and staff areas. Now operated by Classic Cinemas, it later came under the ownership of Cannon, MGM, Virgin, UGC, and latterly Cineworld until closing in January 2008.

On 2nd February 2008, the former upper balcony screen re-opened as the 440 seat Cinema Haymarket. It was converted into a live theatre with the play “Brief Encounter” based on the David Lean film. Sequences in the play use digital projection as well as the live performances on a new stage which has been built on the front of the seating area. The two mini-cinemas in the former stalls area initially closed, but soon re-opened, screening first run films again. The run of “Brief Encounter” ended on 21st November 2008 and the main upstairs auditorium reverted back to cinema use, with the building becoming the Cineworld again. When the Empire Leicester Square was taken over by Cineworld in late-July 2016, they also ‘exchanged’ the Cineworld Haymarket and it was re-named Empire Cinemas London Haymarket from 7th April 2017. On 2nd March 2018 the play “Brief Encounter” returned to the main auditorium for an extended run until 9th September 2018.

Contributed by Ian Grundy, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 117 comments)

CF100 on May 16, 2018 at 9:50 pm

Alas the “wrecking ball” may eventually be on the horizon as the freehold owner is applying for a Certificate of Immunity from listing:

SAVE Britain’s Heritage calls for urgent listing of last surviving grand 1920s West End cinema.

N.B. The façade is within the Haymarket Conservation Area.

Zappomatic on May 22, 2018 at 10:20 pm

It’ll be a huge shame if this cinema is lost and I hope the mainstream media pick up on the threat it’s facing.

LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm

Is screen 1 at this cinema currently closed? I’ve clicked through on a number of movies via the Empire Cinemas website at various times on a number of different days and all seemed to only display seating plans for screens 2 & 3.

Used to visit this cinema quite a bit back in the early/mid 90’s when I believe it was run by MGM? Comfy seats and a fairly large screen plus traditional interior decor are what I remember. Ticket pricing seemed reasonable too.

Good to see Empire Cinemas offering very affordable ticket prices (£4.95 on Super Saver Tuesdays and £9.95 on all other days).

Shall certainly try to revisit this cinema at some point soon to see how it has changed since my visits in the 90’s and just in case it closes down completely!

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 9:09 pm

Screen 1 is currently being used as a live theatre, for a production of Brief Encounter.

LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 9:21 pm

Before and after this theatre production does screen 1 still operate as a cinema?

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 9:25 pm

Yes, and at the same price as the two smaller screens.

HowardBHaas on June 4, 2018 at 9:30 pm

To clarify, at this time, no movies currently in the main auditorium upstairs. Before the play began, there were movies & hopefully again after the play ceases. Don’t want anyone thinking there’s movies daily before & after the live show. Also, auditorium looks the same as early 1990s. No curtain/tab used for movies. The screen is very large. Lobby, stairs, etc. more or less also the same in this lovely historic movie theater.

LARGE_screen_format on June 4, 2018 at 10:13 pm

Have the seats been changed since the mid 90’s?

Zappomatic on June 4, 2018 at 10:38 pm

As far as I’m aware the current seats and carpets are from Virgin Cinemas' refurbishment which took place around 1997 – when Cineworld handed it over to Empire there were plenty of threadbare armrest and lots of duct tape covering sharp edges on the plastic shells covering the backs of the seats.

CF100 on June 4, 2018 at 11:17 pm

Hmm, do such duct tape repairs really cut it health and safety wise?!

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