Dome Art Deco Interior

The Saltdean Lido, the old Ocean Hotel, Embassy Court, the old Savoy at the bottom of East Street and even what is now Primark on Western Road may all spring to mind when thinking of Art Deco in Brighton. It’s very easy to forget though what is perhaps our most dramatic local example.

Bearing in mind the lavishness of the Dome’s Moorish hallways, added by Philip Lockwood when he converted the Prince Regent’s old stables into a concert hall in 1867, it’s hard to imagine that the auditorium itself was ever less than spectacular. Indeed, its 30ft high by 16ft wide chandelier is legendary. But that did not stop refurbishment taking place in the Art Deco style by Robert Atkinson in 1934-5.

The £50,000 project saw a reduction in capacity from 2,500 to 2,100 despite a new balcony being added. An interior ceiling was constructed which would have stopped light coming in which previously entered through glass in the domed roof. I didn’t appreciate this until I was shown the void between the two where it’s still possible to see ornate paintwork and the old openings. Despite the undeniable gloriousness of the auditorium now (its deep oranges and pinks certainly do provide much compensation), I can’t help but feel that the removal of Lockwood’s 1867 interior was tragic.

Up against Olivia Newton-John who represented the UK, the Dome saw Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. It was where Pink Floyd first performed The Dark Side of the Moon. It has been host to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths Nina Simone and BB King. However, for many years, it was clear that refurbishment was necessary. Funding from the Arts Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and many other sources including local individuals made this possible.

The Dome reopened in 2002 after a £22 million refurbishment transformed the complex in many ways, especially technologically. An advanced Carmen audio system uses carefully-placed microphones and speakers to put the right sounds in the right places. Acoustic panels on the back walls, perfectly matching the rest of the auditorium, are adjusted for different performances. Even the centre of the ceiling was removed to increases the auditorium’s volume; all in pursuit of that perfect sound.

The third in this series of four pieces on the Grade I Listed Dome and its surroundings will be the Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre.