Fittingly for a theatre, Notting Hill’s The Coronet has had three distinct acts over its 120 year lifespan. In its present form the Coronet is a dark jewel on Notting Hill Gate, its long corridors festooned with evocative objet d’art and replete with one-of-a-kind theatre bar that fairly drips with the kind of atmosphere that a Shoreditch watering hole would cheerfully slit throats for. Whilst the Coronet is perhaps best known as the cinema frequented by Hugh Grant in “Notting Hill”, when it first opened its doors in 1898 it was as a theatre. Constructed during the last gasp of the Victorian era by a certain W.G.R. Sprague, architect of many classic West End Theatres, the whole interior was gaily decked out in the full Louis XVI style. Two centuries later the ghost of that original theatre flares like gaslight throughout the building. The central performance area in particular is an impressively weathered fusion of this storied past and a stripped out modernism. The curved balconies still loom imperiously over the stalls, though the basic shape of the theatre is very different to its original form.
This change is down to the building’s metamorphosis into the Coronet Cinema in 1923, the dress circle which originally had a separate entrance than the stalls so the Victorian well-to-do didn’t have to mix with the hoi-polloi for even a second, saw its bar reconstructed as a projection room and the capacity dropped down from the original, faintly vertiginous, 1,143 to 1,010. Whilst there was an obvious encroachment of the modern over the 93 years that the Coronet served as a cinema/Hugh Grant date facilitator, an amazing amount has survived. The old royal boxes [King Edward VII was a frequent attendee] are sealed off but overflow with ancient props; behind the bar lurks an impressive tangle of a Victorian heating system that looks like it has been transplanted straight out of one of David Lynch’s more surreal imaginings. If the membrane between past and present is unusually thin, that’s as much to do with how vital and forward looking the Coronet’s programme and culture has become in the 21st century.
When the Coronet’s cinematic days finally came to an end in 2014 it had seen its capacity drop dramatically to 399 in order to provide the kind of legroom which would have been unimaginable to W.G.R. Sprague. There had been several attempts to purchase and redevelop the building over the centuries, but each time the community had come together to block such plans. These fears were well and truly put to rest when the building was returned to its original status by The Print Room and artistic director Anda Winters. Embarking on an ambitious programme of challenging and often foreign work, the Print Room at the Coronet would be a theatrical powerhouse even without its stately setting. As is however, Print Room is hugely enthusiastic about the possibilities of The Coronet; using their 100 seater ‘black box’ studio for everything from screenings to art exhibits and performances to supplement the main space, alongside all kinds of community events from poetry readings by celebrities as well-known as Tom Huddlestone to mini-festivals. There are many parts of the Coronet that are still hidden from the public eye, but as time passes don’t be surprised if more and more of theatre is reborn from the shadows of its past.