‘Love letter’ to tacky flea pits retold in Hackney Picturehouse show

Michael Robert's at the Hackney picturehouse with his scrap book of old Hackney Gazette movie poster

Michael Robert's at the Hackney picturehouse with his scrap book of old Hackney Gazette movie posters. - Credit: Archant

An impressionist who spent much of his youth in ‘fleapits’ from Clapton Pond to Stamford Hill, is putting on a show as a ‘love letter’ to the tatty cinemas, to revive memories of ‘innocent’ days gone by.

The highlight of Michael Roberts’ week would come when the Hackney Gazette arrived - then a broadsheet – where a whole page would be devoted to posters for all the movies showing in the Hackney, Dalston and Bethnal Green area.

The young lad would cut every single sci-fi poster heralding cheap movies like Queen of Outer Space and The Mole People from the paper, and dutifully paste them into a scrapbook.

With his three aunts all in show biz, it was inevitable that the acting bug would finally rub off on Michael, who had been boring his schoolmates for years with his Hollywood impersonations, so eventually he moved from teaching to a stage and radio career.

A highlight was being chosen by ace BBC Producer Dirk Maggs to play Groucho Marx in the three award-winning series of ‘Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel’, currently being replayed on BBC Radio 4 Ex – a role made possible thanks to his father taking him to see every Marx film played in London.

Now, ‘Hollywood Screams’ at the Hackney Picturehouse next week, is Michael’s ‘love letter’ to those tatty cinemas of his youth. In it he speaks about everything that was appealing and appalling in the so-called ‘dream palaces’, with a show of anecdotes, jokes and impressions.

Michael said: “I hope the audience will have a reminder of so many good memories and a chance to relive those innocent times when going to the pictures was really fun, it wasn’t about buying 12 gallons of popcorn, it was about watching the film.

Most Read

“I’m an only child and I think in a funny way going to the cinema was a way for me to feel special, my friends were all playing sports after school but I was off to the pictures nearly every night, I lost myself in the dark.”

His “absolute favourite” cinema of the day, because of the trashy movies they showed, was the Essoldo just sited 200 yards up the road from the Picturehouse in Mare Street.

“It was an absolute dump,” said Michael.

“There was never anyone in there apart from me. When you are in the absolute dark and you walk out of the cinema, you couldn’t’ put your hands on the seats in there to acclimatise yourself because all the bolts were missing, the whole row would all go just like a Mexican wave.”

“One of my favourite fleapit cinemas was off Seven Sisters Road, they had a horror week, they showed two films every day, I saw 14 films that week, it’s amazing I got through my A-levels.”

Tickets for the show at the Hackney Attic on December 17 at 7.30pm cost £6.

Michael Robert’s at the Hackney picturehouse with his scrap book of old Hackney Gazette movie posters