Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 17:01 UK

Hackney Empire shuts 'to reflect'

Hackney Empire
The theatre has also been a TV studio and a bingo hall in its 108-year history

London's flagship variety theatre, the Hackney Empire, is to close for several months while it looks at its financial situation.

It will shut its doors when the Christmas pantomime ends in January.

Artistic director Simon Thomsett has left "by mutual consent" and new chief executive Claire Middleton ordered the closure "for a period of reflection".

A theatre spokesman said: "We hope it will be a momentary pause in a long and glorious history."

Hackney Council said: "The Hackney Empire is a much loved icon and is at the heart of our borough's cultural life.

"Hackney Council will continue to support the empire as we always have.

"Hackney Council and the arts council are working together to provide a package of support to ensure the Hackney Empire is able to recover from these difficulties and return to a full programme as soon as practically possible. "We are very encouraged by the plans the board has to resolve the situation."

Claire Middleton, Interim Chief Executive of Hackney Empire

Interim chief executive Claire Middleton says the theatre will definitely reopen

The theatre spokesman said: "The closure was not forced on us and we are confident it will not be permanent - just a chance to reflect.

"Theatres are expensive places to run. Our balance isn't quite right.

"It is important that we take stock and look to fix any long-term problems."

The theatre opened in 1901 as a music hall and among those playing there live were Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd.

It became the first ATV studio and later a bingo hall before returning to live variety in the 1980s.

In 2004, it reopened after a three-year closure for a £17m refurbishment.

Earlier this month, it was announced the theatre was among venues vying to be included on badges for the London 2012 Olympics.

The theatre is funded in part by the Arts Council England, Hackney Council, commercial sponsors and private donors.

Its latest pantomime Aladdin runs for a month from December to January.

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