A west end revival

It is quite an investment for a company to decide to close a West End cinema for several months for refurbishment — so it represents a vote of confidence in the future of the industry that Vue invested £6.6 million in redeveloping its Leicester Square site.

There has been a theatre there since 1893, but it was probably most famous for the Warner Theatre, pictured above, that was opened in 1938 with a single auditorium of 1,798 seats. In the 1980s, the site was redeveloped by Warner Village, becoming a nine-screen multiplex, eventually taken over by Vue in 2008. The cinema had got tired in recent years, so it is great to report that all areas have now been refurbished, with each of the nine screens having a complete revamp, with superb reclining seats and new sound and projection equipment installed for Screens 5 and 7.

A ‘hard-hat’ tour of the site a few weeks before the cinema re-opened, showed just how much had been achieved.

Warner Theatre, Leicester Square, London

Whilst much building work was going on, with up to 90 workers on site each day, the transformation for the official opening just a few weeks later was remarkable. This is truly now Vue’s flagship site, offering 1,388 luxurious leather reclining seats across nine auditoriums with stepped stadium seating ensuring that every one provides an excellent view of the screen. Vue is incorporating Sony’s new Premium Large Format (PLF) offering, branded FINITY, which combines Sony’s Premium HDR-ready 4K dual projection technology with tailored branding assets and marketing.

The technical kit   

Roland Jones, Executive Director, Technical Services at Vue Entertainment International, is well known for keeping a sharp eye on new technical developments, so it was no surprise that Vue has taken the opportunity to incorporate the latest technologies. The two largest screens, 5 and 7, are equipped with Dolby Atmos immersive sound whilst the other seven have Dolby 7.1. Sound Associates installed and commissioned all the projection and sound equipment, with their team having to lug all the heavy equipment up the cinema’s multiple staircases whilst lifts and escalators were out of action. EOMAC carried much of the other installation work, including the acoustic treatments.

The 7.1 screens use Dolby CP750 processors, and the Atmos Screens 5 and 7 use Dolby CP850 processors, Dolby Multi-channel amplifiers and Dolby SLS speaker systems. As in the rest of its chain in Europe, Vue has eschewed the fashion for laser projection and has chosen Sony 4K projectors for all the screens — R320 models in all screens apart from Screens 5 and 7 where Sony R515 double stack systems are used to provide the required brightness. 3D projection is available in screens 5, 6, 7 and 8 where Harkness Clarus XC 170 screens have been installed.

Accessibility is more and more important, so it was good to see Dolby Fidelio systems  installed to provide HI and Audio Description assistance in all screens. They make such a difference to an increasing number of people.

The most noteable change to the outside of the Leicester Square cinema is the huge 62.7m² digital video screen — it really is impressive, and wags in the business are already joking that the largest screen at the Vue West End is the one on the outside. You can see it on the picture, above right.

The retail and hospitality areas

The whole lobby area is more spacious than before, with a complete redesign of the foyer and bar. It is an excellent example of an installation of Vue’s next generation retail offer with two new hot food concessions —Square Pie and Pizzeria Maletti. There is a sophisticated bar area on the first floor too.

On the opening night, after all the usual razzamatazz, I watched Planet of the Apes in Screen 5. The preceding Dolby Atmos trailers demonstrated the capabilities of this fantastic sound system, and the film’s pictures and sound were excellent, with the dual-stack Sony 4K projectors providing bright, sharp pictures.

Kevin Styles, Vue’s MD had introduced the showing, and after thanking all those involved with the refurbishment said that Vue is intending to set new standards for out-of-home entertainment, making it plain to audiences that there is no substitute for watching movies on a big screen with the highest standards of sound, pictures and comfort. Vue’s investment is a testament to the future direction of the company and to the cinema industry. I can only agree — this cinema has transformed into something special. Go and take a look! 

Jim Slater