Empire Cinemas - London Haymarket

63-65 Haymarket,
London, SW1Y 4RQ

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Carlton Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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.

Contributed by Ian Grundy, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 101 comments)

PhilipWW
PhilipWW on October 15, 2017 at 4:30 am

Thanks Zappomatic. So, is this talk of new plans just a red herring? Do Empire, to our knowledge, plan to do anything to the cinema?

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on October 15, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I’m not aware of any plans. Empire’s record with their older acquisitions isn’t brilliant but who knows? Previously UGC had planned to add screens here, and then before Cineworld acquired Picturehouse they had planned for Haymarket to become one of 20 “The Screening Rooms” luxury cinemas. This cinema seems to have been victim of takeovers happening at inopportune times.

It was tripled in 1977, and then had a Virgin refurb in 1997 involving creating a bar in the old circle. 20 years have passed again – what next?

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on October 20, 2017 at 5:49 am

Stage performance of Brief Encounter returns from March 2018 https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Emma-Rice-to-Bring-BRIEF-ENCOUNTER-to-UK-20171019

CF100
CF100 on October 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm

I can’t imagine Empire Cinemas spending £ms to bring the venue up to scratch, too much competition and lots of high quality up-to-date screens in the LSQ-Piccadilly area.

Takes more than a lick of paint to finish a foyer to current expectations. ;–)

£4.99 for a West End cinema ticket… crikey!

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on October 25, 2017 at 1:55 pm

The next cheapest West End first run ticket I’m aware of is Vue Piccadilly when using their Super Mondays promo, at £4.99 (requires you to get a code from their website first).

Billy
Billy on November 3, 2017 at 1:57 pm

Can’t be many other London cinemas that cheap – Prince Charles’s lowest tickets start at £4.50 for weekday matinees (Member price), and Empire Walthamstow is still £3.95 on Tuesdays, possibly Sutton too when that reopens next month.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on November 3, 2017 at 6:58 pm

Other cheap cinemas in London include Peckhamplex at £4.99 (3D £5.99) any day and time, and Vue Harrow and Wood Green at £5.99 for all 2D screenings.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on November 4, 2017 at 10:43 am

As illustrated in this Instagram post, the foyer lighting feature installed by Virgin in the 90s has been replaced by much more appropriate chandeliers, and the cove lighting appears to have been fixed too. Can’t tell what colour it’s been painted now but seems the white was just undercoat. https://instagram.com/p/BZhoOOEDGbO/

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on November 4, 2017 at 10:48 am

Much better https://instagram.com/p/BWDYcwjDOxb/

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on November 4, 2017 at 10:51 am

I’ve added now to the photo gallery here my own photo of the concession foyer. It looks much better now especially without the terrible metal trough thing that ran along the ceiling.

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