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” had its UK premier 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.

In 1954 it was taken over by 20th Century-Fox and became the West End showcase cinema for their productions, opening with the UK premier of “Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef”. 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 85 comments)

cultman1 on April 6, 2017 at 3:34 am

Make it a showcase single screen again as there are no other single screen left now. Use it for premieres like the old days. Realistically and seriously I think Empire will sell this off one way or the other

Zappomatic on April 6, 2017 at 7:54 am

Empire webpage now set up: http://www.empirecinemas.co.uk/cinema_info/empire_london_haymarket/t45/

Given Empire don’t do the 10% discount for online bookings they are technically charging more than Cineworld were. I think they are really going to struggle with this seeing as Empire’s brand is not particularly well known in London.

As an Unlimited member I miss the days before Cineworld bought Picturehouse and they actually made an effort to compete in the arthouse market. Haymarket and Shaftesbury Avenue shared a listings poster and you often ended up with a really interesting and quirky selection of films across the two sites. The value of the West End card is diminished now that you have Fulham Road which most definitely isn’t in the West End, and Leicester Square where two of the screens carry a surcharge and all bar one of the other screens are so tiny that showings routinely sell out in advance. Getting to use Picturehouse Central for £5 is nice but that’s not really the point of the “Unlimited” card.

Zappomatic on April 6, 2017 at 12:19 pm

So, debranding inside began even before the final Cineworld customers had left. Bar had already been closed.

Reopens tomorrow as Empire from 7.30pm.

Zappomatic on April 10, 2017 at 8:49 am

Had a poke around the online booking for the cinema and it looks like they haven’t sold a single seat in advance for any upcoming performances.

From Friday there’s nothing on in Screen 1. Event, or already refurbishing I wonder?

cultman1 on April 10, 2017 at 8:57 am

hopefully….. I still have my reservations on the future of this theatre.

Zappomatic on April 11, 2017 at 7:11 am

I think Empire were a little late putting up listings for the film in screen 1, so it’s going to limp on its current state for a while yet. Five films being juggled across three screens next week.

SethLewis on April 11, 2017 at 12:27 pm

With the Vue closed for refurb and the Odeon West End gone, you would think that they could manage some decent first run bookings for the big screen here

Zappomatic on April 17, 2017 at 9:49 am

All tickets now £9.95 – that didn’t take long!

Zappomatic on August 2, 2017 at 9:52 am

The viability of this place must be seriously in question now that it’s not propped up by a chain with a membership scheme. I’ve been having a look at their seat maps just before the posted performance times and it’s not uncommon for the smaller screens to have zero seats sold (ie. only the house seats greyed out) and screen 1 to have fewer than 10 seats sold.

What will the future hold? I’d imagine now that a traditional projection booth isn’t required the two basement screens could be chopped up into four screens without reducing the screen sizes. I actually think Everyman could be the best fit for this cinema, using the disused stalls bar/soda fountain as a restaurant and re-stepping screen 1 to fit in luxury seats and sofas.

CF100 on August 9, 2017 at 10:52 am

Zappomatic: The plans for the cinema are on Westminster Council’s site, e.g. http://idoxpa.westminster.gov.uk/online-applications/licencingDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=KDGKTIRP10100

There is also a building control entry, dated 2010, for “Replacement of two structural beams due to corrosion and delamination.”

One therefore might wonder about the building’s overall condition.

Clearly plenty of scope for refurbishment and reconfiguration although I’m also cynical about its future.

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