Liverpool’s Royal Court is one of the region’s much loved theatres, staging musicals, comedies and more in both its main auditorium and Studio Theatre.
Throughout the years, it has played a major role in the lives of people in both Liverpool and beyond. Looking back on my own memories of the theatre, I explore the venue’s history, some of its memorable productions and its work with communities in the city.
I was 17 years old when I first visited Liverpool’s Royal Court. An enthusiastic A-Level Drama student, waiting in anticipation as the stage curtain lifted one cold November evening.
Eithne Browne was the first performer I saw on its stage, and one who I love to see whenever I see a show at the theatre. She’s always wonderful in whatever role she plays.
Over the years that followed, I have watched dozens of brilliant performances at Liverpool’s Royal Court. From the sold-out run of Brick up the Mersey Tunnels, to the hilarious Lost in Colomendy and the sing-along phenomenon Let it Be.
Little did I know when I was 17 how much this theatre would come to mean to me, as it does to many audiences, performers, writers and technicians who have stepped into the building throughout the years.
Liverpool’s Royal Court has played a huge part in the lives of people both in Liverpool and beyond, since it opened as Cookes New Circus in 1826. Hosting opera, music, theatre and ballet, the venue would later become the Royal Court Theatre in 1881.
Between 1881-1970, performers such as Vivien Leigh, Fred Astaire, Lawrence Olivier, Yul Brynner and Ken Dodd would appear on its stage. Dame Judi Dench also made her acting debut at the Royal Court in 1957.
However, if there was a period of time I could travel back to, it would be the Royal Court’s legacy as one of the region’s major concert venues between the eighties and the mid-noughties.
A part of its history that always fascinated me, my mum and dad regularly recalled the bands they had seen at the venue, from Thin Lizzy to Dr Hook, much to my jealousy.
From David Bowie to Wham, to Oasis, Kylie Minogue, Pulp, The Foo Fighters, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard and more, thousands would visit Liverpool’s Royal Court to see their favourite artists.
Researching the Royal Court’s history as a music venue for my Masters Degree Project back in 2018, the love that audiences not only in Liverpool, but around the world, had for the venue was phenomenal.
People from across the world reached out to share memories of their first concerts, ranging from rock bands Whitesnake and Status Quo, to pop icons like Duran Duran.
One attendee described Duran Duran’s concert as the most memorable they had seen, recalling “people dancing in the aisles. It’s one of the stand out gigs I remember for the atmosphere”.
A fondly remembered part of Liverpool’s Royal Court history, whether that was seeing artists in the main auditorium or in the basement bar, many attendees treasure their memories of their first gigs at the venue. I only wish I’d gotten to see one of these legendary concerts myself!
Today, Liverpool’s Royal Court is renowned for showcasing and producing the work of local writers and performers.
After entering the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize, Gerry Linford saw his script come to life in 2018, as Les Dennis took the lead role in the Miracle of Great Homer Street.
Received to critical acclaim, Linford’s heartwarming Yellow Breck Road followed in 2019. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including my own. This story of family resonated with me deeply and stayed with me long after I left the theatre.
That’s the power of theatre – it’s ability to connect with you and stay with you, as many Royal Court productions do.
Whether it is their infamous Christmas productions or shows such as Maggie May, The Liver Birds, Lost Soul, Girls don’t play guitars and Masquerade, each production connects with generations of audiences.
One of my fondest show memories was Mark McGann’s production In my Life. It was a warm summer evening in August 2015 and there wasn’t a seat left in the room.
Set amongst a backdrop of John Lennon photographs, Mark McGann enthralled the audience with renditions of songs including ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Working class hero’. When ‘Twist and shout’ closed the show, the entire room were on their feet. The atmosphere was electric.
Another memorable production (and one due to return to the theatre in the future) is Life in Theatre Production’s smash-hit comedy Mam I’m ‘ere. Written by Stephen Fletcher, I’ve seen the show a few times and it never fails to make me laugh.
Full of seventies anthems, it is a testament to the fantastic talent within Merseyside – from the script to the direction, to the cast and the band who provide the soundtrack that has you dancing all night.
In my eight years reviewing shows at the theatre and interviewing the casts of the aforementioned shows, the one thing that stands out is the love that the performers have for the audience. As soon as they enter the stage, the cheers erupt from the auditorium and you can see the smiles on the performer’s faces. Together, it feels like everyone involved in the production and in the audience are family. It’s a joyous feeling.
This feeling of family extends to the phenomenal community work that Liverpool’s Royal Court and the Royal Court Theatre Trust facilitate, from their variety lunch club to their community choir.
The Peoples Players and Boisterous Theatre Company has regularly staged work in the Studio Theatre, showcasing the talent of people of all ages from Liverpool. Their Youth Theatre also supports the up and coming talent of tomorrow, who we might one day see on its stage or working in a technical role on a show.
And so, I finish with the wonderful words of Eithne Browne from The Royal Court Selection Box, which was staged last year in a series of socially distanced shows:
“This is your theatre”.
Sarah O’ Hara
Photo Credit: Liverpool Royal Court