Hippodrome returns to engulf audiences in another world following ‘miserable’ pandemic
Of the many industries sent spiralling by the pandemic, you could argue that theatre was one of the hardest hit.
Theatres up and down the country were some of the first attractions to be shut down by Covid and probably the last to stir from a year-and-a-half-long slumber.
Bristol Hippodrome, which has stood proudly in the city since 1912 and survived the Bristol Blitz along with a devastating fire, was no exception.
When the much-loved cultural institution was forced to down shutters in March 2020, theatre director Ben Phillips thought it would ‘only be for a couple of months’.
He and just one other person were often the only staff members on site for much of the pandemic, and were dealt a further kick in the teeth when they were told the Christmas panto would not go ahead just one week before opening night.
But the future is finally looking bright for the Hippodrome, which recently hosted the world premiere of Disney’s new musical Beauty and the Beast.
For Ben, seeing the curtain rise on opening night was ‘probably the most poignant moment’ of his ‘entire working life’.
“I remember that day,” he said. “My emotions were all over the place - above all, I was so nervous.
“But seeing the audience start to filter through into auditorium after so long was something very special.
“We do it for them, really. Those involved in theatre do it because we love to see audiences delighted.
“The curtain rising was truly a ‘we’re back’ moment.”
The re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast was significant not just because it kick-started the Hippodrome’s programme of shows after 525 days of closure, but also because it is spearheaded by black leads.
“That’s something that’s long overdue,” added Ben. “These lead actors are pioneers. We desperately need more diversity in theatre.”
The programme of upcoming shows at the Hippodrome is now so vast that Ben says he expects the theatre to be fully booked until 2024.
“We’ve even had to start putting shows on on a Sunday, just to fit everything in, which has rarely happened before,” he added.
“It’s so important that theatre be preserved, because it’s transportive.
“This past year has been so miserable for everyone.
“When you enter the Hippodrome or any other theatre, you’re leaving that world behind.
“You’re coming to see something spectacular and forget your worries for a couple of hours.
“You’re coming to be engulfed in another world.”