In the first of an occasional series on interesting and unusual venues for performance and music, we give a taste of the wonderfully atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s East End.Wilton’s Music Hall is described by the Theatres Trust as the most important surviving early music hall anywhere. On a recent visit we can only endorse the delight and pleasure to be had by attending performances there – particularly those that capture the flavour of the Victorian and Edwardian entertainment for which it was designed. Our treat was Les Infants Terribles who created an evening of melodrama with puppets and Victorian cautionary tales.
The venue was built for John Wilton in 1859, and for a time was one of the most successful music halls in London, and many great names appeared there. However, by the 1960s, Wilton’s was under threat of demolition, but a campaign, supported by the poet John Betjeman, saved it.Since then, awareness and interest in Wilton’s has grown amongst performers and audiences, culminating in funding being raised for major restoration work which finally made the building structurally sound in 2015. The policy of “conservative repair” has resulted in a unique interior – almost the ghost of a theatre – with strange nooks and crannies, steps that lead nowhere, speckled mirrors, dark shafts, aged paintwork and ornate carving – all beautifully lit – a theatre where the sense of drama extends into the bars and foyers.
Upcoming events include a celebration of Edgar Allan Poe, Christmas tale The Box of Delights, a Cockney Sing-A-Long, Macbeth, and magicians Morgan & West. In addition, private history tours can be booked for groups of 15 or more, or smaller groups can join the public tours which usually take place on Mondays.
Group rates for shows vary by production. The theatre has wheelchair spaces for each performance and the ground floor and Stalls are accessible. There is also a lift if required, but not all areas of the higher floors can be accessed due to the different floor levels of this old building. The subtle renovation has included facilities such as heating, toilets and refreshments. The bars are open from 5pm Monday to Saturday, with pizza and seasonal dishes on show days. On selected Mondays the Mahogany Bar hosts free musical gigs.
How to get there
Wilton’s is in Graces Alley – a short pedestrian-only street between Tower Hill and Aldgate East tube stations, each a 10 minute walk. Taxis can stop at either end of Graces Alley, just a few yards from the entrance of the theatre.