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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Playhouse Theatre, Williamson Square, Liverpool

Formerly - The Star Concert Hall / Star Music Hall / Star Theatre of Varieties / Liverpool Repertory Theatre

Introduction - The Star Concert Hall and Star Music Hall - The Star Theatre - The Liverpool Repertory Theatre - The Playhouse Theatre

Liverpool Theatres Index

A Google StreetView Image of the Playhouse Theatre, Williamson Square, Liverpool - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Playhouse Theatre, Williamson Square, Liverpool - Click to Interact

A programme, printed on silk, for the opening night of the Star Music Hall, Williamson Square, Liverpool on the 26th of December 1866 - Courtesy Carol Shone.The Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool's Williamson Square was first given this name in 1917 and is today the only surviving Victorian Theatre still in active Theatrical use in Merseyside.

The Theatre stands on part of the site of the former Star Music Hall which opened in 1866. The 'Star' name came from the fact that the Music Hall was itself built on the site of an even earlier Concert Hall, run by Jem Ward, called the Star Concert Hall, which was active in the mid 19th Century.

Right - A programme, printed on silk, for the opening night of the Star Music Hall, Williamson Square, Liverpool on the 26th of December 1866 - Courtesy Carol Shone.

In 1866 the Star Concert Hall was demolished and rebuilt to the designs of the Liverpool Architect Edward Davies taking a little over 5 months to complete. The Music Hall cost some £22,000 to construct and fit out, a considerable sum for the time. It could hold around 2,000 people when it first opened on the 26th of December 1866, and its semi circular auditorium was said to resemble that of the Oxford Theatre in London. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed here in 1871

The Star Music Hall was later reconstructed to the designs of Harry Percival in 1896, reopening as the Star Theatre of Varieties on Monday the 28th of December 1896 (See sketch and details of the Star Theatre below).

Externally the Playhouse Theatre of today is still that of Harry Percival's 1896 design although the interior has been altered several times. There is more information on the Playhouse itself below.

The Star Theatre of Varieties

Sketch of the Star Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - A Sketch of the Star Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

A poster for the Star Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool for June the 7th 1897 - Courtesy Ian Cowell.The ERA reported on the newly opened Star Theatre in their 2nd of January 1897 edition saying:- 'Almost entirely reconstructed, this place of amusement was reopened to the public on last Monday, under the auspices of the Liverpool Palace Company (Limited), and although the work is very far from being finished a good idea of the "reformation " scheme was furnished. The reconstruction plan has been carried out with earnestness and zeal, and the new hall, following upon one which was thirty-three years old, will bring the establishment up to the tastes of modern amusement patrons.

Right - A poster for the Star Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool for June the 7th 1897 - Courtesy Ian Cowell.

An imposing vestibule entrance now opens into Williamson-square, with box-offices admitting to the better parts of the house. From this vestibule there are two corridors leading to the stalls and two staircases to the circle. There are two entrances to the pit, one in Houghton-street, and the other in Williamson-square, while to the gallery two staircases lead from the front of the building.

The gallery, which will seat 800 people, forms a semi-circle from the stage. In front of the gallery is an amphitheatre with two rows of cushioned tip-up chairs. The circle is similar in design, and has a large foyer in the rear, from which an uninterrupted view of the stage is obtained from every point.

The pit and stalls form the ground floor, and the seating throughout consists of richly upholstered tip-up chairs of modern design. The orchestra stalls are upholstered in rich old-gold plush, and the same material has been used for the front of the circle, in which the chairs are covered with ruby plush. The pit is upholstered in red repp. The ten private boxes are arranged on either side between the circle and the stage. The theatre is carpeted throughout except in the gallery.

A great improvement has been made upon the stage, and there is now sufficient accommodation for the most ample display of novelties. The stage itself has been lowered. The proscenium opening is fitted with a counter-balanced iron fireproof curtain raised and lowered from the flies. The floors and fronts of the boxes are fireproof so that in case of an outbreak of fire on the stage, it would have to travel a distance of twenty-five feet before the flames could reach either the circle or the gallery - an almost impossible contingency. The orchestra is sunk beneath the stalls floor, only the leader being visible from the auditorium.

The building is heated throughout with hot water, but an even temperature is maintained by means of a system of lattice work in the ceiling, the gallery being as cool and comfortable as the pit. All the scenery has been painted by Mr R. Lloyd, the well-known, scenic artist of London, and the new stage is of sufficient height to admit of the cloth being raised in one piece, instead of being rolled, as is frequently the case...

Sketch of the Stage, Procenium, and Boxes of the Star Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - A Sketch of the Stage, Proscenium, and Boxes of the Star Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

...Behind the stage, most comfortable dressing-rooms have been provided for the artists. In the building there are five bars. The stall foyer is just underneath the pit; behind the pit there is a refreshment bar; there is another behind the gallery; and at the rear of the dress circle another is provided. The theatre throughout is lighted with electricity, and the stage battens are fitted with both electricity and gas. A complete system of hydrants and fire extinguishing apparatus have been arranged all over, and in each section of the building is lavatory accommodation for both sexes. The staircases are all fireproof, and in case of emergency a dual system of lighting is available.

The entire work of reconstruction and renovation has occupied eighteen weeks, but, of course, a considerable amount of decoration and finishing has yet to be done before the premises are completed. The architect who has had charge of the alterations is Mr Harry Percival.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 2nd January 1897.

The Star Theatre had a fairly short life in its incarnation as a variety Theatre, just 14 years in all, before it was eventually sold by its then owner Harris Fineberg and closed in July 1911 for reconstruction and a September 1911 reopening as Basil Dean's now renamed Liverpool Repertory Theatre, see details below.

A plethora of Advertisements posted on a Liverpool building shows one for 'The Love of the Princess' at the Star Theatre, Liverpool - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Above - A plethora of Advertisements posted on a Liverpool building shows one for 'The Love of the Princess' at the Star Theatre, Liverpool - Courtesy Roy Cross. I am told that the boxing poster advertising Jim Maher vs 'Cyclone' Billy Warren, in this photograph refers to a match which which took place on the 10th of January 1910, see here, so this dates the photograph to 1910. I am also told that the street the photo was taken in was Childwall Street (Information Courtesy Bob Connolly.

The Liverpool Repertory Theatre

Stanley Davenport Adshead's drawing for the new Auditorium of the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.In July 1911 the old Star Theatre, which had first opened as a variety Theatre in 1897, was sold by its then owner Harris Fineberg to the newly formed Liverpool Repertory Theatre Company who planned to alter and reconstruct the Theatre for a September reopening as Basil Dean's now renamed Liverpool Repertory Theatre, which would go on to become one of the most prestigious Repertory Theatre Companies in the Country.

Right - Stanley Davenport Adshead's drawing for the new Auditorium of the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.

The purchase of the Theatre for £28,000 was part funded by upwards of 1,200 shareholders comprised of Liverpool Citizens who were encouraged to buy shares for £1 each. The Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury had described the shareholder scheme in their 16th of March 1911 edition saying:- 'It is proposed that the company should be organised on analogous lines to those which have proved so successful in the various garden suburb or co-partnership tenants' schemes, which aim at public objects on a business footing – namely that the interest should be limited to 6 per cent, and that any surplus after payment of interest should be devoted (a) to increase the efficiency of the theatre by engaging a larger staff, providing better scenery &c.; (b) towards building up a reserve fund… It is an important part of this proposal that the shares should be widely distributed, so that as many persons as possible should feel a sense of personal property and pride in the enterprise. It is proposed that shareholders should receive certain privileges, such as prior rights to book seats for the first nights of new productions. First nights in such a theatre would become attractive social functions, as the Repertory season has shown. Again, it is proposed that there should be occasional receptions in the theatre, at which the shareholders would have opportunities of making the acquaintance of the actors, and a natural and friendly relation would be set up between audience and performer.' - The Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury, 16th of March 1911.

In the end the Theatre's owner, Harris Fineberg, was persuaded to take £5,000 of the purchase price in shares in the Theatre, as the rest of the share scheme, despite being widely taken up by the Liverpool public, only managed to raise £13,000 of the total £28,000 asking price.

Stanley Davenport Adshead's drawing for the newly created Foyer at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.The alterations, which cost £8,000 to achieve, were carried out to the designs of Professor Stanley Davenport Adshead, who was the first Professor of Town Planning at Liverpool University, and Charles Herbert Reilly, Professor of Architecture at the University. The changes took four months to complete, from the previous Theatre's closure to the Theatre's eventual September 1911 reopening as the Liverpool Repertory Theatre.

Left - Stanley Davenport Adshead's drawing for the newly created Foyer at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.

To achieve the changes the new owners also bought some property behind the Theatre, then created a new Dressing Room Block, Property Room, and Paint Room out of them, with a small passage between the new Block and the Theatre. They also altered and refurbished the old auditorium, and constructed a new Foyer in the space which had previously been occupied by a beer cellar underneath the auditorium of the former Theatre.

Charles Herbert Reilly, in his 1938 autobiographical book 'Scaffolding in the sky' says that the Star Theatre's auditorium had been a 'sort of seraglio with half a dozen Moorish boxes on either side,' and then he goes on to say that the new Theatre's auditorium was 'in a large scale dignified Roman manner with two big boxes only and a ceiling with the loves of Jupiter painted in large roundels by our Sandon Studios friends at, I remember, thirty shillings a Jovian armour.'

The Playhouse Theatre

The Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool from 'The Liverpool Repertory Theatre' by Grace Wyndham Goldie 1935.

Above - The Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool from 'The Liverpool Repertory Theatre' by Grace Wyndham Goldie 1935.

Liverpool's Daily Post pullout souvenir for the Jubilee of the Playhouse Theatre on Saturday November the 4th 1961, 50 years after the founding of the Liverpool Repertory Company at the Theatre. - Click to see the entire souvenir.The Theatre was renamed again in 1917 when it became the Liverpool Playhouse, the name it retains to this day. Subsequent alterations have included an extension to the building to house a paintframe and workshop from a former cafe next door in 1961; the stage and dressing rooms were enlarged in 1966; and in 1968 a large glass fronted tower was built next to the Theatre to accommodate a new entrance and booking office for the Theatre and a new restaurant, see photograph and details below.

Right - Liverpool's Daily Post pullout souvenir for the Jubilee of the Playhouse Theatre on Saturday November the 4th 1961, 50 years after the founding of the Liverpool Repertory Company at the Theatre. - Click to see the entire souvenir.

The Stage Right Box and Auditorium of the Playhouse Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.A Brochure for the redevelopment of the Liverpool Playhouse in 1968 stated that:- 'The original building, flanked by Williamson Square and Houghton Street, remains structurally unchanged. Outside and in, attractive redecoration and vital improvement to heating, lighting and toilet facilities combined with re-positioning of the lighting and sound control at the back of the auditorium are some of the essential points of modernisation...

Left - The Stage Right Box and Auditorium of the Playhouse Theatre in 1911 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.

...The new building with its outstanding contemporary design blending perfectly both with the old theatre and the next door Ravenseft development, occupies an area as large again as the old one and houses on the ground level the new Booking Office, Foyer and cloakroom. On the first floor the Playhouse Restaurant and above that the Redgrave Room and the Star Buttery and Bar. In conjunction with the old stalls bar and coffee bar these areas provide greatly increased facilities for patrons and with access to the auditorium at all levels via the main staircase the whole audience can mingle as they choose.' - From a Brochure for the redevelopment of the Liverpool Playhouse in 1968.

The Liverpool Playhouse in a photograph taken by Elsam M. Cooper in June 1968 - Courtesy Ros Merkin.

Above - The Liverpool Playhouse in a photograph taken by Elsam M. Cooper in June 1968 - Courtesy Ros Merkin. The photograph shows the new glass fronted extention of 1968 which was built to accommodate a new entrance and booking office for the Theatre and a new restaurant.

The Liverpool Playhouse Theatre is today the only surviving Victorian Theatre still in active Theatrical use in Merseyside and is a Grade II Listed Building. The exterior is still that of the former Star Theatre of 1897, although now enhanced with its 1968 extension, and its Auditorium, which was constructed on three levels, and altered in 1911, still retains much of this 1911 structure and plasterwork (See photographs below).

The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in 2013 - Courtesy K.R.

Programme for 'Alice in Wonderland' at the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool in December 1946.The Playhouse Theatre is today run in conjunction with the Everyman Theatre in Hope Street. You may like to visit the Playhouse and Everyman Theatres' own website here.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Star Music Hall in 1871, and his Grandson Robert George Lloyd, my father, was born in Liverpool in 1911, the year the Liverpool Repertory Company was formed.

Right - A Programme for 'Alice in Wonderland' at the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool in December 1946.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B.F.

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