Unlike the Music Halls in Liverpool, which only began in the mid-19th Century, theatres can be traced to early times. In 1073 there was recorded entertainment at Liverpool Castle by Norman ‘jongleurs’. From their performances, the name Juggler Street was given to what is now called High Street.
Records of 1571 give evidence that Tudor Liverpool burgesses licensed wandering players to act and perform and also indicate the establishment of two theatres. One indoor theatre was based in the second floor of the Town Hall where Liverpool scholars gave performances.
Another was originally a cockfight pit that was reconstructed in 1567 as an attraction to the town for gentlemen and others. The Cockpit Yard Theatre was between Drury Lane and Moor Street. It remained the centre of dramatic entertainment until about 1810 when it was demolished to make way for a corn warehouse.
Another early playhouse (again originally a cockfight pit) was the Blackberry Lane Theatre (Eberle Street, off Dale Street). It opened in the early 1740’s when a company of players performed “The Tempest”. In 1742, Irish players from Dublin performed there. It later became a warehouse.
The growth of trade with America and Africa led to an expansion of new patronage and influence in the delivery of drama in Liverpool. Alderman Thomas Steers, Mayor 1739, was responsible for the construction of the first real theatre in Liverpool. It opened in 1740 as the Old Ropery, being a two-storey building on the site which had once been Liverpool Castle. The theatre was on the ground floor, with a dancing academy above. It was demolished in 1786.
c1750 – Drury Lane Theatre
Named after the famous London Theatre. Built between the Old Ropery Theatre and Brunswick Street.
At the time Liverpool was a popular seaside resort and for many years numerous wealthy families came for the summer bathing season. Theatre attendances were also boosted; Drury Lane entertained with comedies and plays. During 1758 and 1759 refurbishment took place to erect a partition between better-class patrons and drunken sailors! The theatre was later converted into a warehouse.
1772 – The Theatre Royal Williamson Square.
The theatre was large and elegantly furnished. It was lit by candles and oil lamps (gas not being introduced until early 19th Century). The Theatre Royal continued to be popular with rich and poor alike, though often the scene or riots, confusion and excessive drinking among certain members of the audience! Due to its increasingly bad conditions and rivalry from other developing theatres it was closed in 1802 and demolished. A new Theatre Royal was built on the site in 1803.
1795 – Christian Street Circus
Here were the best set of entertainments remembered in Liverpool. It originally opened as a riding school with equestrian shows. As a circus, performances included horsemanship, tight-rope walking, dancing, and equestrian exercises. It became the Olympic Circus in 1805 and was enlarged and refurbished during the next three years.
Its fortunes declined after the opening of John Cooke’s circus in Great Charlotte Street, 1826. So the Olympic Circus was converted into a theatre, reopening in 1831 as Queen’s Theatre. Refurbished once again it opened in 1846 as Theatre Royal Adelphi performing Shakespearean plays and pantomimes.
* 1869 Became the Adelphi Music Hall and Theatre of Varieties
* 1906 Converted into a Gymnastic Club
* 1912 Converted into a Cinema
* 1922 Demolished and new Adelphi Cinema built on site
* 1941 Destroyed in bombing raid , WWII
* 1803 New Theatre Royal - Williamson Square.
Built after the demotion of old Theatre Royal (1772-1802). It had a horseshoe shaped auditorium with very good views and acoustics. It presented dramatic plays and Italian Operas and was completely renovated in 1843.
1871 - Renamed Theatre Royal Palace of Varieties (Short Music Hall Span)
1872 - Theatre Royal and Opera House
1884 - Converted to a Circus
1890 - Converted to a Cold Store
1970 - Demolished
(Site now occupied by retail units, including Liverpool FC Shop)
1824 - The Pantheon, Church Street
Presented dramatic plays.
1829 - Renamed Liver Theatre
1850 - Converted into shops
1826 - Cooke’s New CircusQueen’s Square, Great Charlotte Street.
The Amphitheatre - originally opened as a circus by John Cooke to continue the success of the Olympic Circus in Christian Street.
1840 - Became The Royal Amphitheatre with drama, ballet and musicals
1888 - Renamed The Royal Court. Continues as one of Liverpool’s leading theatres with operas and pantomimes.
1933 - Reopened as a music hall, but fire destroyed the interior.
1938 - Reopened for stage plays but not varieties.
After a period of uncertainty in the late 70’s and early 80’s due to financial funding problems (in common with many theatres nationwide), the theatre has re-established itself offering varied entertainment – operas, ballets, musicals, comedies, dramatic plays, group and rock concerts.
1846~1860 - The Hop, Dale Street Presented plays and exhibitions at cheap rates.
1880 - Renamed Saunder’s Theatre of Varieties
1881~1884 Became City Theatre of Varieties
1884~1894 Became Grand Theatre of Varieties
1895~1904 Became New Grand Theatre and Opera House
1904 - Name changed to Queen’s Theatre
Later renamed Kelly’s Theatre (After proprietor Alderman William Wallace Kelly) presenting variety performances.
Closed 1916. Became a restaurant and warehouse until bombed in May 1941
1850 -Queen’s Hall and then Bijou Opera House, Bold Street - Music and dancing entertainments
1890’s - Became shops
1852 - Royal Park Theatre, Park Street - Plays and pantomimes. Converted into a warehouse in the 1900’s
1859 - Theatre Varieté, Lime Street
1868 - Renamed St James’ Hall
1896 - Tivoli Palace of Varieties
“Negro” [aka “black-face”] minstrel shows, plays, ballets operas, comedies and musicals all in the repertoire.
1900’s - Became a cinema until 1959.
Closed because of decreasing cinema attendances. Nowadays redeveloped as shops.
1861 - Prince of Wales Theatre, Clayton Street
Performances of plays
1901 - Cinematography shows
1866 - Alexandra Theatre, Lime Street. Became the Empire Theatre.
The Empire Theatre was opened on 19th December 1896 with a popular performance of Cinderella. Demolished 1924
1925 - New Empire Theatre now occupies the site. Popular shows from London, operas, ballets plays, comedies, pop and rock concerts, etc all in the repertoire.
1980’s - The Arts Council chose it over the Royal Court to receive funding
Late 1990’s Redevelopment makes the Empire the biggest theatre outside London – further phases of building work ongoing [not without controversy as it absorbed the neighbouring public house, a pub having been on that site since at least the 18th century].
1866 - Star Music Hall, Williamson Square
1896 - Star Theatre of Varieties
1899 - Star Theatre
1911 - Liverpool Repertory Theatre
1917 - Playhouse Theatre
Concerts, operas, ballets, comedies and music on the original repertoire. Later focused on repertory theatre, becoming one of the most prestigious provincial repertory theatres in the country well into the 1980’s
Home to London Old Vic Theatre during Second World War.
After a period of renewed success (and refurbishment) in the 1990’s under the guidance of local lad Bill Kenwright, financial problems saw the Playhouse’s closure in 1998.
It has since reopened – refurbished once more - in partnership with the Everyman Theatre on Hope Street.
The Playhouse remains today as Merseyside’s sole surviving theatre from the Victorian era. [The modern extension, which some feel sits ill at ease with the original building, was nevertheless felt to be architecturally worthy of being listed, and preserved in the recent refurbishment!]
1867 - The Prince Patrick Hall, Camden Street
Later renamed Wellington Hall and then the Gaiety Theatre
Now Commercial building
1869 - The original Rotunda Music Hall and Theatre, Stanley Road
Music, singing, plays, pantomimes and melodramas presented.
Rebuilt in 1876 after a fire.
1876 - Circus
Charles Hengler, from a Copenhagen circus family, opened a circus at the junction of Everton Road and West Derby Road. 4,000 spectator arena. Closed in 1901, later converted into the Royal Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties, later becoming a cinema, then a bingo hall.
1888 - Shakespeare Theatre, Fraser Street Presented plays, varieties and annual pantomimes.
1963 - Dance Hall
1976 - Destroyed by fire, was to have become a comedy/ cabaret venue under the guidance of impressario/ DJ Pete Price
1913 - Crane Hall and Theatre, Hanover Street
1969 Became the Neptune Theatre Built above Crane’s Music Store, originally as piano rehearsal/ demonstration rooms – hence the unusual location.
Hosts professional and amateur dramatic groups and dance schools. Annual pantomimes and children’s shows throughout the year as well as a venue for a successful “comedy club” of cabaret performances by national and international artistes. Still continues shows with well-attended audiences.
1964 - Everyman Theatre, Hope Street
Originally opened as a cinema 1961-63, on the site of a former Methodist meeting hall [the nationally renowned Everyman Bistro occupies the basement i.e. the crypt/ mortuary!]. In 1964 the theatre aimed to offer adult play-goers the chance to see dramas performed by a young, experienced company as well as matinees for children.
1977 - The new Everyman Theatre appealing to young students wanting alternative repertoire and foreign films.
Variety continues today. Everyman Youth Theatre project exists training young people with an interest in theatrical arts. Another Liverpool theatre with a history of financial problems in the 80’s and 90’s, the Bistro took over the running of the theatre above it!
The Everyman is now the partner of the Liverpool Playhouse.
1980- Unity Theatre, Hope Place.
Sited in a converted synagogue and the home of more radical theatre groups for some years prior to becoming the Unity Theatre.
Funded by Arts Council and Local Authority, offers a mixed programme of professional and local groups – dance, drama, mime, new writings and ethnic arts, as well as a youth project and workshops for children.