Entertainment in Bristol boasts some of the best venues in the country, including Colston Hall and the Old Vic theatre that Daniel Day-Lewis described as ‘the most beautiful in England’. However, the Bristol Hippodrome still manages to stand out as one of the cultural hubs of the city.
All in all, it’s an absolutely stunning theatre. A fine example of the grand architecture of the late Victorian era, it’s a masterpiece of design by the eminent Frank Matcham. The architect became famous the world over for building the London Hippodrome, Hackney Empire, London Coliseum, London Palladium and Victoria Palace, all in little over a decade. He’s also the man behind both Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom and Grand Theatre, and Leeds’ stunning County Arcade.
The Bristol Hippodrome was the last major theatre Matcham built. He went out with a bang; it was one of his most ambitious projects. When it first opened, it featured a giant water tank which slid from beneath the huge main stage and could be filled with 100,000 gallons of water in just one minute. It allowed for unique theatrical effects such as tidal waves, rapids and waterfalls. Plus, there was a retractable glass screen to ensure that the orchestra and people on the front rows didn’t get their gladrags wet.
Sadly, the water tank’s long gone, but there’s another Matcham special that’s still used to this day. Above the stalls, you’ll see a spectacular domed roof. Romantically, it was opened to reveal the sky and stars above. Practically, it was also used to keep the theatre cool. The Hippodrome is now fully fitted with air conditioning. Nevertheless, audiences have been known to request its opening during intervals. As far as we’re aware, it’s the last working theatre dome in the UK.
As far as productions go, there’s a reason why the Bristol Hippodrome is nicknamed Bristol’s West End Theatre. It’s arguably the country’s best provincial theatre and attracts major shows from the West End and Broadway. Looking back at the theatre’s list of past shows makes for an impressive read. The famous stage has welcomed Cats, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella. In fact, the Bristol Hippodrome even hosted the world premieres of Mary Poppins in 2004, and the English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker in 2002.
Take a look at what’s on during your stay. There tends to be something for everyone, thanks to a carefully curated programme of classics, musicals, ballet, opera, contemporary drama, concerts, comedians and pantomimes.