Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre (CAST) began in 1965, after founder members Roland Muldoon, Claire Burnley [later Muldoon], Raymond Levene and David Hatton were ejected from the left wing Unity Theatre as a result of a failed attempt to make its productions more politically radical. Although all four members had trained and been employed behind the scenes as technical staff, the newly formed group saw them becoming the performers.
With the addition to the group of David 'Red' Saunders who had attended Roland Muldoon's and Levene's drama classes at the Working Men's College, [1965-1966], CAST produced its first original play 'John D Muggins is Dead'(1966), a 20 minute piece inspired by the movement against US involvement in Vietnam. Their next plays, performed by a series of ever changing line ups which would become the norm, were 'Mr Oligarchy's Circus' (1967) and 'The Trials of Horatio Muggins' (1967), both of which reflected the revolutionary struggles between young idealistic socialists and the English middle class. CAST usually played in non theatrical venues, such as technical colleges, universities and political meetings, where it gained a reputation for short, fast, political comedies (usually involving a protagonist with the surname of Muggins) which always played to the audience. As well as touring Britain, the group also travelled to Holland, France and Germany.
The group split in 1972 in the middle of making the short film 'Planet of the Mugs' (after previously turning down a movie offer from Andrew Oldham, the ex manager of the Rolling Stones). Red Saunders and other members of CAST went on to found 'Rock Against Racism' and 'Kartoon Klowns'. The Muldoons, however, reformed CAST but initially found it difficult to both teach newly recruited members of the troupe CAST's particular style and to attract audiences. In 1974 CAST were awarded their first funding from the Arts Council which enabled the Muldoons to begin to perform full time and eventually tour around Britain extensively. In 1980, CAST won an OBIE award in New York for outstanding script and performance for the production 'Confessions of a Socialist'.
The core CAST company continued to perform political pieces but in 1982 they began to organise New Variety nights, a mixture of alternative comedy and cabaret acts. The first shows took place at the Old White Horse, Brixton Road but later, with the help of grants from the GLC, the nights expanded to at least 8 venues throughout London.
The Hackney Empire was built as a music hall in 1901, designed by the architect Frank Matcham. In 1956 the theatre was sold to ATV and it became the first commercial television studios in Britain. In 1963 MECCA purchased the theatre and converted it into a bingo hall. MECCA had made some modifications to the interior decor of the Theatre but in 1979 removed the famous turreted domes and pediment from the roof of the building. However, in 1984 the Theatre gained a Grade II* listing and MECCA were ordered to restore buildingâ€™s exterior to its original state. As the interior was also listed, MECCA were unable to alter the original, formal theatre seating arrangement which had become increasingly unsuitable for its bingo playing audience. MECCA then offered the theatre to CAST New Variety as a permanent London base. Assisted by the London Borough of Hackney, Hackney Empire Preservation Trust (founded by the Muldoons and others in October 1986) eventually acquired the freehold from MECCA Ltd for the price of Â£150,000 on the understanding that they returned the building to its former use.
The Hackney Empire opened once more as a 1000 seat theatre on 9 December 1986 as the home venue for CAST New Variety (under the name Hackney New Variety). CAST New Variety still continued to run the events in smaller locations where they encouraged new acts to perform beside more established artists. By 1986 CAST New Variety were running 250 Sunday shows a year in London.
Hackney Empire went on to establish itself as one of the leading stand-up comedy venues in Britain. In 2001, the Empire began a renovation and restoration project which was completed in January 2004.
From the mid 1990s, Roland Muldoon began to become less involved with the day to day running of Hackney Empire mostly due to the financial problems which has continually affected the Theatre. He finally retired at the end of 2005 and has since begun to organize New Variety shows outside of Hackney Empire.