A brief history...
It is said that history repeats itself - something that seems to ring true with the Empire Theatre, Halstead. The re-opening of the theatre on 27th November 1978 by the Empire Theatre Trust was something unique - the actual physical business of re-opening was by popular demand - "a repeat performance" - because this was not the first time the Empire had been revived as a place of entertainment, although hopefully it would be the last as it became an important part of life in the town.
This is just a short introduction to a long history of entertainment at the Empire which today provides top first class live shows and entertainment, which include pantomime, 60's concerts, jazz and country music complete with new lighting and sound equipment provided by the Empire's sound and lighting crew.
Twice nightly performances including live variety acts made up the evening's entertainment. In fact live shows such as "Manekshani from Delhi" seemed to overshadow the films in its early days.
The other "revival" of the Empire came in the early 1930's when after standing derelict for several years a grand opening was staged with the then famous George Arliss topping the films-only bill. The days of the variety shows were over at the Empire and throughout the 30's and 40's the cinema was almost a way of life for many people. But the Empire did not have it all its own way.
In June 1916 the Colne Valley Cinema later re-named 'The Savoy' and opened in Trinity Street and later the Plaza at Sible Hedingham.
In fact the Plaza, although the smallest of the three was the first local cinema to show "talkies" with Al Jolson in "The Jazz Singer". Soon afterwards both the Empire and the Savoy followed with sound movies. The Empire did - and still has - one feature its competitors did not which will be remembered by hundreds of courting couples - double seats at the back of the auditorium.
In 1951 brothers Ken and Harry Foulconbridge moved to Halstead and bought the Empire. Advertisements at the time described it as "Foremost in Entertainment." The present entrance and facade were added to the building in 1957, also the small petrol station adjoining. The brothers continued to run the Empire until 1971 when once again it closed its doors as a cinema as admissions slumped, mainly due to the new entertainment "TV", increasing problems with licensing and soaring costs.
The Theatre closed for some while and several planning applications turned down. All this time the equipment and interior were kept intact and clean. Happily the building was eventually bought by Halstead Town Council and leased out to the Empire Theatre Trust, a small body of volunteers headed by Brian Stanion and actor Alan Helm who sweated and worked to re-open the cinema against much criticism. The Gala opening was on Monday, 27th November 1978 in the presence of Sir John Ruggles Brise, with the showing of the film "The 39 Steps" starring Robert Powell.
The Theatre has come a long way since those days, weathering the ups and downs of the film industry.
It still retains a Trust Committee, now responsible for the running of the Theatre since the closure of the cinema side of the business in July 2005. Today it is a completely independently run Theatre for the area, run on a completely voluntary basis and something the town is proud of. Come and see for yourself.
We are trying to bring you a wide and varied series of entertainments to encourage people to return. The theatre has seen in past year Showaddywaddy, Richard Digance, The Barron Knights, Raymond Froggatt and comediene Hollie Walsh.
It was a sad day in July 2005, when the cinema side of the Empire Theatre had to close its curtains for the last time, due to lack of bums on seats and the opening of a competitive multiplex nearby. However, the Theatre continues to bring first class entertainment to the town so keep coming to enjoy some great shows.
Many thanks for your support and as the saying goes... SEE YOU AT THE EMPIRE!