Amy Moore speaks to Vincent Hayes, Founder of BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL, which is a perfectly preserved example of Victorian entertainment in the East End
TALK US THROUGH THE BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL
I’d been on tour such a lot throughout my early career. People think it’s exciting, but being away from home, I became disenchanted. I just wondered how I could possibly work in the theatre, and be more local. So, I came up with the idea of building my own theatre. In Brick Lane, there was an old Truman Brewery, which had been empty for years. I took a lease on an old canteen. It was a workers canteen – part of the Truman Brewery. With help from friends and a nominal amount of money, I created a 120-seater music hall. It’s been hugely successful. We have moved away from the original concept, which was two or three or four people booking.
Now, we get coach parties. From Brick Lane, I moved to Curtain Road, which was an old button factory. After I got there, the whole area went through a major development. I’d been offered this building where I am now, which is a beautiful Gothic structure in the borough of Newham.
THE BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL IS LOCATED CLOSE TO LONDON CITY AIRPORT; DO YOU GET A LOT OF OVERSEAS VISITORS?
They don’t necessarily come from the airport, but we do get a lot of overseas visitors who have an interest in Music Hall or ‘vaudeville’ as the American’s call it. I’ve always been in the East End, which is why the Brick Lane Music Hall has been quite a secret until the last year or so. We have a map in the office dotted with pins from people who have come from the Far East, the Middle East, Israel, Australia, America and Mexico. We take great pride in putting the pins on the map. They find us through a website called TripAdvisor. When we started, we only had a diary and a pen. Music Hall has certainly come of age in terms of the electronic age.
WHAT DOES THE BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL OFFER IN REGARDS TO ENTERTAINMENT?
The top of the bill at every show is laughter. It’s bringing the audience together to create an atmosphere, which is specific to that audience. In the course of that, I find out where people have come from. We give a round of applause to the people who have come from Florida, for example, and I tease them with whatever I can find out. It’s always been my religion to take care of the children, take care of the elderly and the ones in the middle can take care of themselves. We have six schools, where Years 5 and 6 put on a production. This time, it’s a tribute to VE Day – 70 years since the end of the Second World War. We also started a charity in 1996, which was specifically aimed at creating laughter for the elderly.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE WITHIN THE BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL ?
I’ve always been an entertainer. I started in the theatre – dancing – when I was five. I went to auditions and got into pantomime. In those days, if you got a summer season at a pantomime, you were already booked for nine months of the year. I’ve learnt to sing and tapdance, but it was laughter that attracted me the most. People found me funny. All the shows at the Brick Lane Music Hall are very stylized – it’s showbusiness. And because we have such a fine building, we have to be complimentary to what the architect imagined – that this would be a building that would lift people out of their ordinary, everyday lives. It’s musical with a twist.
TALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF PUTTING A SHOW TOGETHER
We come up with themes. Remembrance Sunday is very important. We have a memorial in our grounds dedicated to the fallen of the First and Second World War. Brick Lane Music Hall does a wartime show. Last year, it was to remember the First World War. This year, it will be the Second World War. Within the show, we include all the people who were evacuees. We put together a little production, which shows us all dressed as kids, with our luggage labels and our suitcases. Then we come to VE Day, when the war is over. A lot of that is reflected in music, song and laughter.
WHAT DOES THE BRICK LANE MUSIC HALL HAVE PLANNED FOR THE CHRISTMAS PERIOD? We put together a Christmas themed show, where the whole venue is decorated in a Christmas theme. Everybody coming in has all the hats and crackers, available at every show. We sing carols and get the audience to become a choir. We have some wonderful Christmas songs. We talk about Christmas’ past and future. It’s a memorable time of the year at the Brick Lane Music Hall.