It's coming home! | Hackney Empire gets its New Act Competition back

It's coming home!

Hackney Empire gets its New Act Competition back

The comedy talent hunt once known as the Hackney Empire New Act Of The Year is coming back to the venue where it started.

Now known by the acronym Natys, the competition was first set up by Roland and Claire Muldoon soon after they took over the former East London music hall in 1986, with Linda Smith the first winner.

Their socialist theatre group Cast rescued the venue, which had once played host to the likes of  Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd – but by then had become a bingo hall.

The couple stood down in 2005, but continued to run the Natys under their New Variety banner. However, five years later Roland became embroiled in a public row with the Empire’s new chief executive, Clarie Middleton, who decided to close the venue for several months amid financial difficulties. 

Its final has since been staged at The Barbican, Stratford Circus, the Bloomsbury Theatre, Leicester Square Theatre and Rich Mix.

However, earlier this year Middleton left the Empire - paving the way for the Natys to return to their original home.

A spokesman for the competition said: ‘It’s been ten years since we last staged the Natys at the Hackney Empire and we are delighted to be asked back.

‘We are so looking forward to returning to the East End’s home of Variety with a new generation of acts.’

Around 100 acts will audition for a place in the final, which is officially called a Top of the Bill Showcase and will take place on February 2 next year. Applications are open now, here.

Other previous winners include Stewart Lee, Ardal O’Hanlon and Joe Wilkinson, as well as acts who have slipped into obscurity such as Jon Reed, Anton and Paul Hickman.

Tim Vine, Shappi Khorsandi and Daniel Kitson have been runners-up, while Russell Brand, Simon Amstell, Micky Flanagan, and Simon Pegg, were finalists but did not get placed.

Published: 25 Sep 2018

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