Troxy’s Mighty Wurlitzer is key to Dr Jekyll silent Halloween horror movie
- Credit: Troxy
Europe’s ‘mightiest Wurlitzer’ which has been resurrected from the graveyard of theatre organs comes out of the shadows on Sunday to scare the daylights out of honest Londoners during Hallowe’en. Renowned organist Donald MacKenzie (pictured) plays the musical score with full orchestral soundtrack to the original 1920 classic silent movie Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.
The 1930s organ restored at east London’s massive Troxy theatre in the Commercial Road is being used to accompany a one-off special silent film show.
The Troxy, which had its own restoration to its former art deco glory after closing as a cinema in 1960, is screening the silent horror film for the first time in 50 years for Hallowe’en in its intended form—dark, dramatic and eerie, using the sounds of a full orchestra.
The Wurlitzer does that with four keyboards, a pedal board, 241 stop keys and 1,728 pipes measuring between an inch and 16ft high which are housed in four separate rooms.
“It was originally built to complete sound tracks,” Cinema Organ Society’s Nigel Laflin explained. “All the effects would have been played on the Wurlitzer to accompany silent films and provide entertainment before shows or during intermissions.
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“Most people today won’t have heard a Wurlitzer in action and can’t imagine the possibilities. We want to ensure the beautiful sound doesn’t get lost in time.”
Wurlitzers were widely used in the 1920s and 30s to create the ambience of a full orchestra with drums, cymbals, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba and piano as well as the classic organ within the console.
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The one now restored at the Troxy was originally imported from America in 1930 and installed in the Trocadero cinema at Elephant and Castle.
It went into storage when the Trocadero closed in 1963, then installed during the 1970s in the South Bank University, before moving to the Troxy in 2009 when a six-year restoration project began.
Troxy’s owner Mohit Sharma said: “It’s been 60 years since we played a silent film, so for us this is a piece of film history with the restored Wurlitzer.”
The Troxy is recreating the experiences of pre-war audiences, having first opened as a grand cinema in 1933 with its debut screening of another classic horror movie, King Kong, starring Fay Wray.
The luxurious auditorium was one of London’s big picture palaces, seating an audience of 3,520. It regularly hosted international stars like the Andrews Sisters, Gracie Fields, Clark Gable, Petula Clark and later Cliff Richard.
But the era of the big cinema finally came to an end ion the 1960s with the expansion of television.
The Troxy closed in 1960 with its last film ironically about an infamous event that put the East End in the limelight, The Siege of Sydney Street.
The building remained empty for three years until the London Opera Centre was created, run by Covent Garden Royal Opera for rehearsals on an extended stage which was an exact replica of the Royal Opera House stage.
Then it became Mecca Bingo in the 1980s, running seven days a week, but the coming of online gambling was the final curtain in 2005.
That’s when the Troxy’s Renaissance emergedf, when Ashburn Estates bought it and restored the venue to its original art deco glory.
Sunday’s Silent Screams evening starts 5pm at the Troxy in Commercial Road, Stepney, near Limehouse DLR, tickets available online at £15.