A is for ACROBAT
One the most popular variety acts in the theatre’s early years were acrobatic performances. Performing in troupes such as The 4 Athos, Kremka Brothers and Brothers Richmond, the acrobats were often described as eccentric and extraordinary, performing summersaults, balancing routines, and cycling tricks. Many of these acrobatic acts featured a comedy routine but some of the most daring routines featured the high wire - one notable performance in 1936 featured a high wire walk from the stage to the gallery!
B is for BANDS
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the Hippodrome programme seems to have been dominated by bands and band led variety shows. Popular bands were Marcel de Haes and his Cosmo Band, Hal Moss and Ernest Lorraine and his famous Cabaret Band. Many of the leaders and their bands played in radio shows, that were sometimes even broadcast form the theatre. In variety shows the band not only supported the musical acts but were often the star of the show themselves, performing original numbers or a mix of popular songs.
C is for CLOWN
Clowns were a regular feature in the variety days of the theatre - sometimes they were attraction like Paulo the Singing Clown (1940) or were part a larger performance such as the Royal Clowns in the 1948 Colossal Circus. Clowns are comedic performances, but there are lots of different types of clowns such as Circus and Auguste, each with different characters, costumes and performance styles. In the early 1900s the Hippodrome Pantomimes still featured Harlequinades, a British style of comedy theatre, where highly stylised clown characters would perform in the middle of a Pantomime, such as in the 1920 production of Cinderella.
D is for DOG
One of the Hippodrome’s great mysteries is the name of Singor Pepi’s pug! The little dog belonging to our founding director and his wife, was a much-loved member of their family and when it died was buried within the walls of the Theatre. While we have a photograph of the dog and his ghost has been spotted in the building may times, we still don’t know its name! What do you think would be a good name for the pug?
E is for ELECTRICITY
When the theatre first opened in 1907 the Hippodrome ran a mixture of gas and electricity, with the theatre being mainly powered by electricity with gas as the back up in case of a failure. The Hippodrome would also later have its own motor generator for specifically lighting the stage; in addition to lighting the venue for the public electricity also played a role in the Theatre’s entertainment with intriguing acts such as Mddle. Lumiere’s Electrical Fairy Grotto in 1907 , The Great Radiana "the most sensational Electrical Novelty in the world" in 1935 and most the exciting of all “TELEVISION - a marvellous demonstration of the future entertainment” in 1936.
F is for FLYER
As part of the Theatre’s archive we have thousands of flyers advertising shows and events staged at the Hippodrome. Flyers are an important way promoting upcoming shows featuring vital show information, cast details and positive reviews. Our collection of flyers starts in the 1970s and show the development digital design.
G is for GHOSTS
There's so many spooky stories tied in with the Hippodrome's history that we could fill an A - Z of just ghosts!
Mention our spectral friends to any member of staff, past and present, and you'll likely be regaled with a tale of unexplained goings on.
In 2016 the theatre hit the national news when members of the restoration team accidentally snapped what appears to be two phantom figures in the stalls. See for yourself in this article.
Check out our virtual ghost tours here.
H is for HEMP HOUSE
Darlington Hippodrome was a hemp house theatre, meaning that the theatre used hemp ropes on a weights and pulleys system to “fly” in scenery and sets.
Traditionally in theatres, with the amount of ropes, rigging and knots needed for this manually-hauled system, many ex-sailors were hired as flymen!
The hemp flying system has now been replaced with a modern double-purchase counterweight system. This allows the theatre to accommodate the increasingly heavy load requirements of larger touring shows.
I is for INNOVATIVE
Whilst theatre has always been a popular pastime, in the last 100 years it has come up against competition from radio, film and TV. To compete, the theatre has had to innovative with its shows, sometimes embracing the new technology.
At the Hippodrome Signor Pepi introduced the Pepiscope, a short segment showing early film clips, and in 1931 the Hippodrome hosted a special show that enabled people to take part in the newest film craze - Talkies.
The Hippodrome would continue to host innovative shows with a demonstration of TV and even live radio broadcasts.