Showbiz Stars Alex and Debbie have Rescued the Eastbourne Hippodrome

By Tony Flood

The real life stories of talented showbiz couple Alex and Debbie Adams would be a scriptwriter’s dream!

Alex followed the example set by his multi-skilled parents Melanie and Mark Adams by appearing in productions for The Rattonians, an amateur society putting on Hollywood-style shows in Eastbourne theatres where he learned his craft and met his wife-to-be Debbie Hackett, who was the inspirational choreographer for The Young Rattonians.

Debbie – and Alex – literally couldn’t put a foot wrong! In 2006 she opened The Trapdoor Theatre School, working with young people in all areas of performance, including choreography, directing, set design, theatrical make-up, hair and costuming.

She was joined by Alex in 2012 and the school has gone from strength to strength, with more than 150 students now attending.

Alex and Debbie have also played huge parts in keeping alive Eastbourne’s oldest theatre, The Royal Hippodrome, which dates back to 1883, by putting on shows and later making a massive financial investment.

inside of Royal Hippodrome Theatre

Alex says: “In 2012 members of the Eastbourne Hospitality Association, Darren Weir and Jerome Farrow, approached us, as The Rattonians, to use the theatre for productions. They had just taken over the running of the Hippodrome, and the impression was that if they didn’t step in the council would moth ball the theatre.

“At that meeting Mum, Dad, Debbie and myself discussed the possibility of The Rattonians Youth Group, which Debbie and I ran at the time, using the theatre for our annual show. We had been using the Devonshire Park Theatre up until that point. Debbie and I also said we could produce a summer season for them.

Talented family, left to right: Mark Adams, Melanie Adams, Alex Adams and Debbie Adams

“From this Trapdoor Productions Ltd was formed by Debbie and myself, and in 2013 we opened our first summer season Seaside Special at the Hippodrome. We also agreed to run The Trapdoor’s summer school at the theatre.”

The EHA, under the company name RHT Management, had been given a rolling lease, and a financial support package from the council covered business rates, utilities, building insurance, waste collection etc.

But Alex and Debbie felt that having only a one year rolling contract to produce summer season shows didn’t provide the security needed.

Alex recalls: “We ended up going to the council with a proposal to invest £500k of our own money into the theatre in return for a long lease or the freehold. The council agreed to this and in 2018 Debbie and I took over the running of the theatre and the management company, The Royal Hippodrome Eastbourne CIC. There was still a rolling one year lease but we had complete control of programming as well as refurbishment.”

The grade 2 listed building has since undergone a major facelift, including a facade restoration in 2018, a foyer extension in 2019 and a major restoration of the auditorium during the theatre’s 140th anniversary year.

Alex explains: “The freehold was transferred to us ‘free’, with a grant of £750k from the council to address long standing issues, as Debbie and I contributed £500k for refurbishments. The £750k will be delivered over a three year period and will pay for some of the structural issues that need attention. The first instalment of this supported the auditorium refurb including the restoration of the stalls seats and new seats in the dress circle. The freehold paperwork finally came through in March 2023 so we now own the theatre.”

The Hippodrome has a colourful history. It was originally named the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, having been granted a Royal Patent by the Prince of Wales. It was designed and built for the theatre manager and impresario George Beaumont Loveday by the eminent theatre architect C J Phipps.

In the early days plays and light opera, including the touring company of the D’Oyly Carte, were presented but these gradually gave way to music hall and variety shows, starring Harry Houdini, Marie Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Flanagan and Allen and Max Miller.

They were followed by other big names – Harry Secombe, Norman Wisdom, Russ Conway, Peter Sellers, Ken Dodd, Roy Hudd and Bruce Forsyth.

So image what an honour it was for me to ‘star’ at this wonderful old theatre, with massive support from my friend and actor Alan Baker, in April, 2014, providing revelations and anecdotes from my celebrity book My Life With The Stars, which is currently on offer on Amazon.

As a former Fleet Street journalist and Sky Television executive, I was able to reveal secrets of Elvis Presley, Joan Collins, The Beatles, Eric Morecambe, Dudley Moore, Kylie Minogue and a host of other showbiz stars. My performance was filmed and extracts were included when Alan Baker and I then presented  ‘When Variety was King’, a half hour television show which paid tribute to the Hippodrome.

Alex Adams has, of course, become a true star after first performing at the age of four with The Rattonians alongside his parents!  He is a natural leading man, providing superb song and dance routines, plus comedy skits,  with the likes of Grant Martins, Star Bray, Thomas Hackett, Laura May Sivers, Paula and Barney Pout, Debbie’s daughter Eliza Hackett and Mark and Melanie Adams.

Alex Adams performing on stage with chorus line

The 36-year-old Alex told me: “Over the years my involvement increased on and off stage, and in 2012 Debbie and I took on the running of The Rattonians Youth Group. We haven’t actually done a youth group show since 2019. With the running of the theatre, producing the summer season and now also producing, directing and choreographing Christmas and Easter panto, we just don’t have the time. Debbie and I also now co-produce everything The Rattonians do with my parents.”

Debbie and Alex are thoroughly enjoying the challenges that running a theatre involves. The time and energy they have given to the project is evident in the success that The Hippodrome Theatre is now seeing. With assistance from their family, a very loyal group of volunteers and The Friends Of The Theatre, alongside their wonderful technical crew, they are looking forward to even greater achievements in the years ahead.



  • Tony Flood

    Author Tony Flood, who lives in Eastbourne, has spent most of his working life as a journalist, initially on local and regional papers and then on nationals. He was also editor of 'Football Monthly', Controller of Information at Sky Television and enjoyed a spell with 'The People.' In his celebrity book My Life With The Stars - Sizzling Secrets Spilled', Tony recalls: “My work as a showbiz and leisure writer, critic and editor saw me take on a variety of challenges - learning to dance with Strictly Come Dancing star Erin Boag, becoming a stand-up comedian and playing football with the late George Best and Bobby Moore in charity matches.” My Life With The Stars provides revelations and amusing anecdotes about showbiz and sports personalities including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, George Best, Kylie Minogue, Eric Morecambe and Des O'Connor. Tony also writes in other genres and his crime thrillers have been endorsed by best-selling author Peter James. They are Triple Tease, Stitch Up - Killer or Victim? and Fall Guy - who really killed his wife?, and all feature compassionate copper DCI Harvey Livermore. In addition, there's a fantasy adventure for youngsters called Secret Potion and a book Tony has co-written with wife Heather, aptly titled Laughs and Tears Galore - short stories and poems with twists! Recently, Tony joined The Collective of seven local writers all contributing one character to family saga Driven by Desire, which is full of conflict, fierce ambition and passion as well as a dramatic kidnap. Tony also writes theatre reviews for the Eastbourne Herald, Brighton Argus and BourneFree Live, as well as playing veterans football for Sovereign Harbour Veterans. He is the oldest - and slowest - player in the team.

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