Empire Theatre

Empire Theatre

The Liverpool Empire on Lime Street is one of the most famous theatres in Liverpool.

Liverpool Empire Theatre is located on the corner of Lime Street and London Road in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. The theatre is the second to be built on the site.
In October 1866 a new theatre, named The Prince of Wales Theatre and Opera House opened in Liverpool, on Lime Street. About three quarters the size of the theatre that stands today, it was lit by gas light and all the stage machinery was controlled by steam power.

The very first production was the opera Faust, performed by an Italian company. Within a year the theatre had been renamed and became the Alexandra Theatre and Opera House, probably because the Prince of Wales married Princess Alexandra and it was named after her. The theatre staged a variety of shows, mainly focussing on opera but also featuring plays, ballet and musical shows.

A number of notable names travelled to Liverpool during this time to appear at the theatre, including Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, Marie Lloyd, Harry Lauder and, more notoriously, Sarah Bernhardt. Towards the end of the century the theatre began to struggle financially, operas were very expensive to produce and didn’t bring in the financial returns necessary. At one point in an attempt to prevent the bailiffs entering the theatre, management and staff stood together with fire hoses to fight them off, however they could not prevent the fact that bankruptcy was inevitable.

Early in the 1900s electricity was put into the theatre. Most people didn’t have electricity in their homes at this time, so to come to the theatre and see it lit with electric light was quite spectacular. It also made a big difference from a safety point of view. The theatre stayed open throughout the First World War, with a seat in the ‘gods’ costing a tanner. During the 1920s Moss Empires decided the theatre wasn’t big enough or grand enough and so they pulled it down. The Empire Theatre that stands today was opened in March 1925, entirely rebuilt and enlarged to become the most up to date theatre in the provinces. It had the widest auditorium in Europe, and with a seating capacity of 2,381 is one of the largest two tier theatres in the country.

Julie Andrews, Laurel and Hardy and Frankie Vaughn all flocked to the theatre in the 1950s, closely followed by Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland in the 60s. Once again the style of theatre had changed and the Empire played host to concerts, with a big star at the top of the bill and aspiring stars working their way up. In 1965 the Beatles returned to Liverpool to perform at the Empire and the theatre was packed, with girls even jammed into the royal boxes, which aren’t normally sold as seats. You couldn’t hear a note they sang or played because of the screams of the audience, overwhelmed by being in the presence of the Fab Four.

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