A TNT Travle Writign Awards entrant

Author: Meredith Webb


Outside the dust and litter pass by your feet, whisked along and up into the air by the cool breeze floating off The Thames. A deafening drone emanates from above as cars and trucks thunder upon the over pass which acts as an industrial shield; a form of protection from the corporate and consumer modernism that so rapidly envelopes this historic city. As you enter the original marble floors omit and instant chill dulled only by the large light boxes illuminating what’s to come. Once inside your senses overload with what surrounds: the unintelligible chattering’s of thousands anticipating the night’s proceedings, the glorious colour schemes and art deco forms that have lasted almost a century, the faint smell of hot dogs, alcohol, popcorn and years of unique tales.

The Hammersmith Apollo – originally known as the Gaumont Palace, then the Hammersmith Odeon – opened in 1932 as a cinema, and has since become one of the stand-out live music venues of London. As it was classified as a Grade II listed building in 1990 the décor and grandeur of the theatre has been well preserved. Upon entry you are greeted by hues of deep velvety red and maroon giving a dramatic effect to the stairs leading up to the dress circle on either side of the venues entrance; a circular balcony frames the roof above enveloping the foyer. Wooden French doors lie ahead opening to reveal the ground floor stalls section.

Once inside the sheer enormity of the theatre becomes apparent as a pale pink roof expands above you in swirls and intricate patterns of plastered art deco magic and is continued throughout the entire venue. 1200 organ pipes tower over you, housed in chambers of the front stall ceiling, awaiting musical notes from the original 1932 Compton Pipe Organ which lays dormant underneath the stage; a relatively new home for the organ which was removed due to disrepair in 1990 and then returned to its former glory by the English Heritage Society in 2007. The air of romanticism is further encouraged by the deep set sparkling chandeliers that adorn the walls encasing the rows of plush red velvet chairs that sprawl around you, from side to side and up into the rafters of the Circle above, like rows of soldiers aligned for battle. If you look close enough you’ll catch a glimpse of the sinister Devil-like faces etched into the walls entering the Circle’s bathrooms, heading a warning unknown.

The Apollo has served both as a theatre and live music venue, seeing the likes of David Bowie to The Clash, Johnny Cash to The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald to Duke Ellington, The Wiggles to High School Musical, and has earned itself a well-respected place in the comedy world presenting the acclaimed series ‘Live at The Apollo’ which has hosted such stand-up act’s as Micheal McIntye, Jo Brand, Lenny Henry, Jack Dee and many more. While it has mostly been a song, dance and a laugh for the cocoon of culture if walls could talk this theatre would not always have the happiest of tales. Rumours abound that during the 1940’s the venue doubled as a make-shift morgue due to it’s large size and cold marble flooring, and a black and white photo of the original front of house staff on opening day posted on the staff room wall sends chill’s up the spines of the staff working there today, especially when walking though the back passageways of the venue at night.

There are so many buildings like this in London; so many with such personality and hidden secrets, suppressed by the coming of new business and ownership. This city is so old and has seen such a life of famine coupled with frivolity and culture a little must be contained within its steadfast walls. If walls could talk many of them would have quite the tale to tell, and the Hammersmith Apollo would have quite a few tales indeed.