Hippodrome could become a casino - Saturday 27th of September 2008

From dancing penguins, performing elephants and polar bears to star turns from the likes of Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra – the Hippodrome in its heyday was a byword for glamour and excess.

Now an ambitious attempt to revive London’s landmark to 1950s’ splendour faces being derailed by plans to turn it into a casino. The Hippodrome, on the corner of Leicester Square, is to open its doors to the public soon for the first time in years for a cabaret show that producers hoped would revive the venue. Mark Rubinstein, the theatre producer, is preparing La Clique, his internationally successful cabaret show, for an 18-week run at the Hippodrome. It will be the first public event in the venue since 2004, and the first variety act in more than two decades.

The fate of the venue, however, now rests in the hands of a judge. United Leisure Gaming wants to turn it into a casino. The scheme was given planning permission by Westminster Council in 2006, but an application for a gambling licence was rejected last year. A renewed bid for a licence is to be heard in the Court of Appeal next week.

The consortium says that it will return the building to its former glory.

Variety venue

— A huge watertank in the Hippodrome’s basement is testament to its origins as a water circus venue, which opened in 1900 and included spectacles with polar bears, elephants and penguins

— It reached its heyday in the 1950s when it was converted into a cabaret venue, The Talk of the Town

— The venue was turned into a nightclub in the 1980s by Peter Stringfellow

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