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The Shakespeare Theatre, Fraser Street, Liverpool

Later - The New Shakespeare Theatre / The Pigalle Theatre Club

Introduction and History - Early Programmes - Related Ephemera - The Scots - American, Empress Josephine and the Shakespeare Theatre - The Shakespeare Theatre and the Collins Family - Sam Wanamaker and the Shakespeare Club's last decades

Liverpool Theatres Index

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

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

An early 1891 Poster for 'Humpty Dumpty' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool just three years after the Theatre was built in 1888 - Courtesy Seth Weber.Built in Fraser Street, Liverpool by J. H. Havelock Sutton the Shakespeare Theatre first opened in 1888. Sutton also built the Park Palace, Liverpool, which is still standing today despite being in a very sorry state. The Shakespeare had a huge capacity on opening of over three and a half thousand people.

Right - An early 1891 Poster for 'Humpty Dumpty' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool just three years after the Theatre was built in 1888 - Courtesy Seth Weber.

Kelly's Directory of Liverpool of 1894 tells us that the Shakespeare Theatre was lit by Electric light and Ventilated behind and before the curtain, and that during the winter months the Theatre was heated by hot water.

The Foyer was lined and paneled with beautifully carved Dantric oak representing scenes and characters from Shakespeare's plays.

Special attention was also paid to the prevention of fire, concrete being largely used for the construction of the Theatre, and over the stage were two large water mains called 'Sprinklers.'

The stage was separated from the auditorium by a patent asbestos and iron fire proof curtain weighing five tons, and by iron doors.

Sam Wanamaker took over the Theatre in 1957 and renamed it the New Shakespeare, producing 'legitimate' theatre there. It was also briefly known as the Pigalle Theatre Club. Despite their best endeavours however, neither venture lasted very long and the Theatre was demolished in 1976 after a major fire destroyed much of the building.

The Auditorium of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - From Theatre World, June 1962 - Courtesy Maurice Poole

Above - The Auditorium of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - From Theatre World, June 1962 - Courtesy Maurice Poole

Four early Programmes for the Shakespeare Theatre

A Programme for the week of October 15th 1906 at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - Click to see Entire ProgrammeA Programme for 'Cinderella' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool on December 26th 1907 - Click to see entire programmeA Programme for 'A Pair of Silk Stockings' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool on October 5th 1914 - Click to see entire programmeA Variety Programme for the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool  -  Click to see entire programme

 

Above - Four early Programmes for the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - Courtesy Roy Cross - Hover Cursor over programmes for details and Click the covers to see the entire programmes enlarged.

A postcard view of the Finale of 'Cinderella', taking place in the ballroom set at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1906-1907

A postcard view of what looks to be the Finale of 'Cinderella', taking place in the ballroom set at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1906-1907 - Courtesy Alun Pugh

Above - A postcard view of what looks to be the Finale of 'Cinderella', taking place in the ballroom set at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1906-1907 - Courtesy Alun Pugh.

An Interior photograph of the Lounge of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool

An Interior photograph of the Lounge of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Above - An Interior photograph of the Lounge of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - From 'The Playgoer' of 1901 - Courtesy Iain Wotherspoon.

Shakespeare Theatre Seating Plan for 1914

 A Seating Plan for the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1914 - From a programme for 'A Pair of Silk Stockings' at the Shakespeare Theatre on October 15th 1914 - Courtesy Roy Cross

Above - A Seating Plan for the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1914 - From a programme for 'A Pair of Silk Stockings' at the Shakespeare Theatre on October 15th 1914 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

An advertisement for Cranes Music Centre's Selmar Concert Organ which was installed at the Pigalle Theatre in the 1950s

An advertisement for Cranes Music Centre's Selmar Concert Organ which was installed at the Pigalle Theatre in the 1950s - From a programme for 'La Revue Pigalle' at the Pigalle Theatre, Liverpool in 1956-57 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Above - An advertisement for Cranes Music Centre's Selmar Concert Organ which was installed at the Pigalle Theatre in the 1950s - From a programme for 'La Revue Pigalle' at the Pigalle Theatre, Liverpool in 1956-57 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool for the week commencing Monday the 13th of February 1956

A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool for the week commencing Monday the 13th of February 1956 - Courtesy Chris Woodward.

Above - A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool for the week commencing Monday the 13th of February 1956 - Courtesy Chris Woodward.

A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool, probably 1953

A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool, probably 1953 - Courtesy Chris Woodward.

Above - A Poster for a Twice Nightly Variety show at the Shakespeare Theatre of Varieties, Liverpool, probably 1953 - Courtesy Chris Woodward.

There are some details of the Shakespeare Theatre and many images of the Pantomime 'Dick Whittington' being staged there in 1909 at the website It's Behind You.Com here.

The Scots - American, Empress Josephine and the Shakespeare Theatre

An Advertisement from the ERA of March 1915 for W. W. Kelly Theatres including the Shakespeare - Courtesy Graeme Smith.William Wallace Kelly, future actor-manager and lessee of the Shakespeare and other venues in Liverpool, was born in Philadelphia in 1853 to Scottish parents. His father had a foundry and boilerworks, but after a number of ventures young Kelly moved to San Francisco, becoming a theatrical agent for a national circuit headquartered in Chicago. He came to Britain and took over London's old Olympic Theatre in 1886; and, when Wilson Barret, senior, decided to tour America, Kelly took over Barret's Princess Theatre in London, staging even more plays. He also ventured to Paris and acquired play rights there, including Fedora, during which he conceived the idea of a play about Napoleon and Josephine.

Right - An Advertisement from the ERA of March 1915 for W. W. Kelly Theatres including the Shakespeare - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He commissioned the Irish poet and playwright W. G. Wills to write it, with the eventual title of A Royal Divorce, Under his direct control it played for over 35 years around Britain from 1891, its first staging being in the new Olympic Theatre in London. He selected actress Edith Cole to be the Empress Josephine, and in short time she became Mrs Kelly. Its many years of touring in Britain made it one of the most popular plays of its time. From the wealth accumulated he started to build up his network of Theatres on Merseyside starting with the Theatre Royal in Birkenhead in 1897.

W. W. Kelly and Edith Cole at the Dog Home in Birkenstead (top left and right) - Courtesy the Ernest Bell Library.W. W. Kelly became lessee of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1913. It had become one of Robert Arthur's many Theatres across Britain, which in this instance he leased to others, but on his financial collapse and the takeover of the Robert Arthur Group's direction and management by Howard & Wyndham Ltd it now became surplus to the Howard & Wyndham chain (in Liverpool they concentrated upon the Royal Court Theatre, which had been a Robert Arthur Theatre since 1896. Howard & Wyndham later rebuilt it in the 1930s). Many of Kelly's acts were supplied through the Fred Collins Variety Agency headquartered in Glasgow. In earlier years Fred Collins had performed frequently in Liverpool's theatres.

Left - W. W. Kelly and Edith Cole at the Dog Home in Birkenstead (top left and right) - Courtesy the Ernest Bell Library.

Kelly was a long-time councillor of Birkenhead – but declined its mayorality - and later councillor of Liverpool City Council, representing Toxteth, and eventually an Alderman. He and his wife supported many charitable causes, and he had a standing offer to give £5 to charity to anyone who found him without his buttonhole.

Programme cover for Wentworth Croke's Pantomime production of 'Jack And Jill' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1911.The effervescent W. W. Kelly claimed to be the World Champion of Cigar Smoking and was challenged by an American to hold an endurance test at the Empire Exhibition, Wembley in 1925.

Right - A Programme cover for Wentworth Croke's Pantomime production of 'Jack And Jill' at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool in 1911.

However, whether or not Kelly took up the challenge, he was nearing retiral, and after the loss of his wife in a tragic accident in 1927 he started negotiations in 1928 with Fred Collins for the Collins Variety Agency Ltd to take over the Shakespeare and its business goodwill. This was completed fully by 1929. Kelly died in 1933 age 79. Until his passing he continued to have an office in the Shakespeare Theatre.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in February 2018.

The Shakespeare Theatre and the Collins Family

Fred Collins, 1876 - 1931 - Courtesy Ross Collins.For some 30 years until the late 1950s the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool was leased to and controlled by the Collins family of Glasgow. The 1930s had many BBC North Region broadcasts relayed from its stage, including, variety shows, orchestral concerts and plays. At the time of the Shakespeare acquisition Fred Collins already operated the leasehold of a number of Theatres in Scotland.

Right - Fred Collins, 1876 - 1931 - Courtesy Ross Collins.

The Fred Collins Variety Agency engaged artistes for the Shakespeare Theatre and many other Theatres throughout Britain. It had been started by comic and singer Fred Collins (real name James Nelson) who in his earlier years wrote over 300 songs for performers including Sir Harry Lauder. Before forming his own Fred Collins Entertainers of pierrots the two toured together and remained life-long friends.

A Playbill for the Liverpool Shakespeare Theatre - Courtesy Ross Collins.Collins soon commenced the production of pantomimes, with Fred Collins Productions Ltd writing and producing major pantomimes and seasonal shows for their own expanding bases and for other circuits. They produced all the scenery and costumes for each production and tours throughout Britain, at their Production unit in Renfrew Street, Glasgow and their Workshops and Scenic department in Edmiston Drive, Govan, Glasgow in the years before transferring these workshops to Edinburgh's Theatre Royal premises after it came into the family fold. For pantomimes the main scenic artist was frequently William Edward Glover, a grandson of the eminent William Glover of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

Left - A Playbill for the Liverpool Shakespeare Theatre - Courtesy Ross Collins.

A Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, programme cover for 1937 - Courtesy Ross Collins.Fred's son Horace Collins succeeded him in 1931, developing further their own main Five Theatre Circuit - one major Theatre in each city of Scotland and one in England, to comprise a full year seasonal variety circuit - which included the Tivoli Theatre Aberdeen, the Palace Theatre Dundee, the Theatre Royal Edinburgh, from 1923 onwards, the Shakespeare Theatre Liverpool and the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow.

Right - A Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, programme cover for 1937 - Courtesy Ross Collins.

The excellent website The Collins Variety Agency contains much about the Collins enterprises and their Theatres including the Shakespeare Theatre.

A Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, programme interior 1954 - Courtesy Ross Collins.

Above - A Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, programme interior 1954 - Courtesy Ross Collins.

Horace Collins, with cigar, receives a tantalus in Liverpool from the Lord Mayor on the reopening of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, after a refurbishment. Will Fyffe is immediate left to Horace Collins - Courtesy Ross Collins.

Above - Horace Collins, with cigar, receives a tantalus in Liverpool from the Lord Mayor on the reopening of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, after a refurbishment. Will Fyffe is immediate left to Horace Collins - Courtesy Ross Collins.

An October 1939 newspaper photograph of Florrie Forde in the Dug-out Bar of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Horace Collins was also a keen film photographer and excerpts of his filming of pantomimes have been secured for public delight, set to music in association with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and the University of Glasgow.

The restored films include Sinbad the Sailor starring Dave Willis, filmed at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during its 1936-37 run, which can be seen here, and Forty Thieves starring G. H. Elliot and Jack Anthony, filmed in colour at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre during its 1937-38 run, which can be seen here.

Right - An October 1939 newspaper photograph of Florrie Forde in the Dug-out Bar of the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in February 2018.

Sam Wanamaker and the Shakespeare Club's last decades

New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool flyer for Skiffle Sessions with Bob Cort, Ken Sykora and others, 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.After a very brief spell as the Pigalle Theatre, American actor Sam Wanamaker became artistic director of the New Shakespeare Theatre & Club in October 1957 until January 1959, before moving on to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, and ultimately to his successful campaigning for a reconstructed Globe Theatre on its ancient site in London. He brought a number of notable productions to the Fraser Street Theatre, such as A View From the Bridge, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo and Bus Stop. It was also transformed into a lively arts centre as a result of including other cultural attractions, such as films, lectures, jazz concerts and art exhibits.

Right - New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool flyer for Skiffle Sessions with Bob Cort, Ken Sykora and others, 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Proposals in the next few years to convert it to business premises met with public outcry. To the rescue came the Robley Group, a subsidiary of Lyons the Caterers, and new investment of over £250,000 was made in it. Excellent photographs of its interior being rejuvenated prior to the Club opening can be seen at Liverpool Echo's website here.

The Stage previewed the coming opening in October 1963:- "SHAKESPEARE CLUB. After many heart-burnings, the New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool is to open next week as the Shakespeare Club. Mr. Ted Roberts, joint managing director of the group sponsoring the Club, said the restoration and re-decoration has cost £60,000 and the company is investing nearly £250.000 in the enterprise. Already several thousand members of the Club have been enrolled. The floor of the auditorium has been raised to stage level and there is a 400 square foot dancing area which can be raised or lowered for cabaret. At least two bands will play each night. The Variety Club of Great Britain opens the Club on Monday next with a gala Performance for charity when tickets range in price from 50/- to 6 guineas each. The artists taking part in the entertainment will include Joan Regan, Joan Turner. Tommy Trinder, Don Arroll and Ted Heath and His Band and Singers. For the official opening on Tuesday there will be a floor show produced by David Harding and Tony Shaw, with Don Arroll as the cabaret turn. Each week the floor show will be changed as will be the cabaret spot".

A programme for 'La Revue Pigalle' at the Pigalle Theatre, Liverpool in 1956-57 - Courtesy Roy Cross.The Stage of 31 October 1963 reporting:- "SHAKESPEARE CLUB : As a result of the "Night of Stars" opening of the Shakespeare Club. Liverpool on Monday, it is expected that £7,000 will be handed over to charities which aid handicapped children. The building, formerly the New Shakespeare Theatre, is now scheduled as a "building of historical importance" and has been beautifully re-decorated in gold and soft shades of red and was on Monday handed over to the Variety Club of Great Britain's Liverpool Branch (of which Mr. Brian Wolfson is chairman) to put on the charity show. The artists appearing included Tommy Trinder. Joan Turner. Don Arroll, Ted Heath and His Band. Jimmy Edwards and Beryl Reid who are appearing at the Liverpool Empire, took part in the fun at the end of their show.

Left - A programme for 'La Revue Pigalle' at the Pigalle Theatre, Liverpool in 1956-57 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Surveying the theatre in all its new splendour, Mr. Ted Roberts, joint managing director with Mr. David Leach, said. "This is a dream come true." For some time it seemed probable that the theatre would be turned into a warehouse, but it has been saved that fate and will hence forth be a Club providing accommodation for dining on three floors together with bars and lounges."

Only eight days after its opening in 1963 as the Shakespeare Club cabaret venue, and now including a separate Casino room, a fire raged through it. But it rose again, re-opening as the very successful Shakespeare Club, known to locals as "The Shakey", under the direction of millionaire restaurateur George Silver of Oxford.

New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, flyer in 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The Shakespeare auditorium was one of the largest Cabaret Theatres in Britain, with national and international acts including Roy Castle, Bob Monkhouse, Tommy Cooper, Freddie Starr, Larry Grayson, the Bachelors and Dave Allen, plus sporting events. There was a French restaurant on the first balcony. In the 1970s the name changed to the Shakespeare Show Bar.

Right - A New Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, flyer from 1957 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

However, a second fire, in 1976, finally razed the building. The Salvation Army built the Ann Fowler House hostel on its site.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in February 2018.

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

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