The Playhouse as we know it began life as the Star Music Hall in 1866 and became a theatre in 1911.
The Liverpool Playhouse's Christmas show, 'The Star', is written by Michael Wynne from Birkenhead. In this guest blog Michael reveals how the show came about:
The germ of the idea for ‘The Star’ came from the audience reaction to a small music hall section in my play ‘Hope Place’ at the Liverpool Everyman in 2014, the first new play at the newly rebuilt theatre.
I had wanted to do something historical and tap into the different incarnations of the Everyman over time. The play opens in a scene set before Hope Street was built, when it was all just bogs and fields in 1699. We also see it was a church, temperance hall, cinema and a music hall.
The second act opens with a music hall act, as I thought some music and song would be a lively way to get people back in after the interval. Michelle Butterly played Lily Lloyd and sang 'Has anybody here seen Kelly?', 'She’s a Lassie from Lancashire', 'Don’t have any more Mrs Moore' and 'Waiting at the Church'. I loved it and thought it might be a bit unusual, but the audience lapped it up, sang along and seemed to know the words.
I thought, ‘there’s something in this’ and mentioned it to the artistic director, Gemma Bodinetz. I then discovered that the Playhouse used to be the Star Music Hall and it was the 150th anniversary on 26th December 2016 – and the Christmas slot at the Playhouse at that point was empty … so the planets seemed to be aligning!
I started researching music hall and the history of the Star. I discovered that there were a great number of music halls all over Liverpool and Merseyside. The Tivoli, Dingle Park Palace, Prince of Wales, Empire – which is still there today – and The Argyle in Birkenhead, where Charlie Chaplin performed and Vesta Tilley first sang 'Burlington Bertie from Bow'.
The Museum of Liverpool looks at Liverpool's theatres in its Wondrous Place gallery.
I discovered the Star was one of the leading music halls in the country, famous for its comedy and music. I found some original bills from the time, which we now have decorating the walls of the bar during the run of the play and feature acts such as 'Jessica Queen of the Slack Wire', 'Holloway', 'Man on a Ladder' and 'Zaeo the Human Catapult', who have all made their way into the show.
I researched the world of music hall and fell in love with this forgotten time. The wonderful songs, many of which I knew like, 'Don’t Dilly Dally' and 'The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery', but didn't quite know how and those I didn’t found their way into the show. Wonderful comic songs such as 'The Spaniard that Blighted my Life', about a man taking his wife to a bullfight for her to run off with a toreador; to painfully sad songs like 'Are We to Part Like This, Bill?', about a girl whose boyfriend leaves here for her best friend.
I hope to share my love of music hall and the Star with the people of Liverpool and give them a real Christmas treat.