The Tivoli Theatre, Peter Street, Manchester
Formerly - The Alexandra Theatre / Folly Theatre
Above - The Tivoli Theatre, Manchester - From a variety programme for the Theatre in 1906 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
The Tivoli Theatre was situated on Peter Street, Manchester and opened in 1897. The Theatre was a reconstruction of a former Music Hall which had first opened as the Alexandra Theatre in 1865 next door to the Free Trade Hall. The Music Hall was itself a conversion of the former Ebenezer Chapel and one of the Theatre's bars was a conversion from the former Chapel's Sunday School.
The Theatre, which was later known as the Folly Theatre of Varieties, was run in the 1880s by Edward Garcia who also ran the Grand Circus and Comedy Theatre in Manchester at the time. Laurie Somers was manager of the Folly Theatre and its successor, the Tivoli Variety Theatre, in the 1890s, and more information on his period at both Theatres can be found below. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Folly Theatre in July 1886.
Right - A Variety Programme for the Tivoli Theatre, Manchester in 1906 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
The Folly Theatre was later rebuilt to the designs of J. Percival and reopened as the Tivoli Theatre of varieties on Monday the 6th of December 1897 and the ERA reported on the occasion in their 11th of December 1897 edition saying:- 'This new variety theatre, which has been rebuilt on the site of the old Folly Theatre of Varieties, was opened on Monday evening, and the management are to be congratulated on the handsome and well-appointed house.
Left - A Programme Cover for the Folly Variety Theatre, Manchester, later the Tivoli Theatre - Courtesy Roy Cross.
Great credit is undoubtedly due to the architect, Mr J. Percival, who has personally superintended the erection of the building. No expense has been spared in order to make everything comfortable, both for the audience and for the artists. An excellent view of the stage can be obtained from every part of the house. The stage is 26ft., square, and is effectually shut of from all parts of the house by iron doors and an iron curtain. The latter, which takes one minute to raise can be dropped, if necessary, in four seconds. Special attention has also been given to the ventilation of the building, and a hot-water apparatus has been fixed throughout the hall to meet the exigencies of cold weather. There are also splendid dressing-rooms provided for the performers, and each is supplied with hot and cold water. A double system of lighting has been adopted, and the electric lights are on what is called the four-light circuit, so that it is practically impossible for the "house" to be thrown into sudden darkness.
With regard to the decorations it may be said that they have been done in most effective style. The groundwork is five shades of green, relieved with rich gilt, and the whole looks exceedingly pretty. The entrance vestibule is tiled with a mosaic design, which is very effective. Taking everything into consideration, the theatre is a most comfortable one, and Mr J. L. Jones, under whose direction it was erected, must be greatly gratified at the result of his labours.
Right - Details from a Variety Programme for the Tivoli Theatre, Manchester in 1906 - Courtesy Roy Cross.
On Monday evening the house was packed in every part, even standing room being unattainable, and hundreds of people had to be turned away long before the performance started.
For a first night everything passed off remarkably well, owing, no doubt, to the excellent arrangements and forethought of Mr Laurie A. Somers, the acting-manager. There were several "extra turns" on Monday evening, the principal being Mr Dan Leno, whose popularity in this city has in no way diminished, his quaint humour being much enjoyed. Miss Maggie Duggan also met with a most enthusiastic reception. Prominent among the other "extras" were Miss Lilly. Landon, serio, and ''Valdo Brothers. Miss Jenny Valmore, burlesque actress, who is among the artists engaged here this week, scored a distinct success, and the Three Sisters Hawthorne were as charming as ever. The Three Delevantis contributed an exceedingly clever performance, Mr Fred Earle proved himself' a smart comedian, and the other artists appearing were - Miss Rosie Coleman, comedienne; Miss Gwennie Hasto, vocalist and acrobatic dancer; Mr Chas. Pastor, comic vocalist; Miss Ethel Bereeford, ballad vocalist; Miss. Carola, with her miniature circus; and the Leaurence Troupe of lady trick bicyclists.'
The Tivoli Theatre opened on Monday the 6th of December 1897 and ran as a Variety Theatre until it was reconstructed again in 1921 and reopened as a Cinema. Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Tivoli Theatre in April 1903. There is a very nice interior photograph of the Tivoli Theatre in 1900 here. The Theatre was demolished after a fire in 1936.
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Above - A Watercolour showing the Folly Theatre, Manchester - By George Richmond August 2016. The painting has been created from a photograph in the book 'Red Plush and Gilt' by Joyce Knowlson. George Richmond says 'When it became the Folly Theatre alterations were made to the ground and first floor façade as shown in the painting. I have used yellow tones to complement the illustration of the Tivoli already on the page. The old photo suggests that the façade was rendered, so it is likely to have been a cream/ stone colour.'
In the Manchester Spy of June 1891, they published a photograph of Laurie Somers (shown right), and an article on the Theatre saying:- 'The Folly, so energetically directed by Messrs. Farini and Somers, holds a very prominent position in this city. Indeed, such an establishment has not much to fear so long as it is conducted with energy, respectability, and enterprise. Happily both Mr. Farini and Mr. Somers possess the advantage of a long and thoroughly practical experience, and the widespread patronage and confidence bestowed upon them is in every respect most fully merited.
This week they give us another company of sterling merit, but undoubtedly the principal attraction is the appearance of Lieutenant Walter Cole, the greatest ventriloquist of the day, who is received with much enthusiasm. Lieutenant Travis is another master-hand at ventriloquism, and certainly he deserves all the success he achieves. Mr. Tom Woottwell is an eccentric comedian, and creates much mirth whilst on the stage. The Sisters Castro are smart vocalists and dancers, and win much praise. Mr. Fred Herbert, a vocalist above the average, is fast coming to the front, and works hard to attain popularity. Miss Carrie Heaton is making a big success, all her repertoire of new songs being encored. Mr. Harry Manton gives a satisfactory turn, and the Folly and Harvey Midgets in a pugilistic sketch make up a capital bill-of-fare. Good houses nightly, despite the sultry weather. A portrait of Mr. Somers, the manager, will appear next week.
The Folly, always to the front with any novelty in the variety business, has concluded a most important engagement for next week, i.e.; the first appearance on the variety stage of our old friend and Manchester dramatic favourite, Mr. Charles Collette, which promises a great treat to the lovers of the legitimate as well as the variety stage. As this engagement is for one week only, it should not be missed.
If it were possible to excel excellence, the two ventriloquial shows at the Folly do it. The friendly rivalry between Lieutenants Cole and Frank Travis brings out the best points of both, and the dual performance is as exciting as it is good. - The Spy, June 5th, 1891.
Above - A Programme for the Folly Theatre, Manchester under the management of Laurie Somers - Courtesy Sue Green
Above - A Watercolour showing the original 1865 Alexandra Theatre, Manchester - By George Richmond August 2016. The painting has been created from a photograph in the book 'Red Plush and Gilt' by Joyce Knowlson. The Theatre later became the Folly Theatre, and then the Tivoli Theatre in 1897.
The Manchester Spy also conducted an interview with Laurie Somers which they published in their 12th of June 1891 edition which is transcribed below:-
'Having learnt on inquiry at the Folly Music Hall the other evening that the genial manager, Mr. Laurie A. Somers, was inside, I made a point of getting there likewise. I found the popular little gentleman surrounded as usual by a coterie of his acquaintances, all of whom consider themselves his friends. Laurie has such a pleasant, taking way with him, that after ten minutes chat you fancy you are old acquaintances, and geniality and joviality reign supreme.
Mr. Somers' numerous friends are being daily augmented, and at the present time would require the mathematician of the staff to make the calculation, they running well into four figures.
As I before remarked, Mr. Somers had a pleasant little gathering around him, and as one departed to view the "show," another stepped up to take his place, and swell the group of his admirers. After this sort of thing had been progressing for some time, the idea began to permeate my brain that these people must have come to the "Folly" to have that pleasant little chat with Mr. Somers quite as much as to view the "show," and as an attraction to the "Hall" he proves himself a veritable permanent "star" of the first water.
Finding that this sort of thing was likely to continue all night, I boldly advanced to the attack, and taking Mr. Somers off his guard, announced my presence as the great I AM interviewer to the greatest success of modern times in the newspaper world, &c., &c.
Mr. Somers vainly attempted to escape from my clutches, but I skillfully wove the silken web around him to prevent his departure, and succeeded in gaining his good offices as conductor over the premises.
There was a crowded house in every part, the denizens of the gallery beaming down upon the stage from their ethereal situation, whilst the habitues of the "bottomless pit" had a steady fixed gaze upwards towards the attractive show on exhibition before the footlights.
Mr. Somers graciously escorted me along the "Lounge," and we sampled the first-rate "juice of the vine" supplied by the siren behind the bar. Wherever we went Mr. Somers was greeted with every sign of popularity, and it needed not the eagle eye of the interviewer to take in at a glance that Mr. Somers was a real genuine favourite with the audience.
Left - A Folly Theatre of Varieties Farewell Benefit Bill for Laurie Somers on Friday July 10th 1891 - Courtesy Sue Green. Also see a review of this benefit below right)
Gazing on the "sea of beauty" in petticoats which adorned the precincts of the Lounge, I was especially gratified to notice the general air of respectability pervading the whole audience. Both ladies and gentlemen were of a superior stamp to what one usually expects to find in a music hall audience, and the fact that Mr. Somers is able to command such an assembly reflects the highest credit upon him.
Referring to the generally good behaviour of the people, Mr. Somers remarked, with a smile, "Well, you see, I never take any liberty whatever with any of my patrons, and consequently I am in a position to prevent them from taking any liberty, not only with myself, but with any of my audience. They know me and respect me, because they know if they exceed the bounds of propriety they will be expelled."
Inquiring of Mr. Somers as to whether he never had any scenes in reference to expulsion, Mr. Somers stated "The employees have strict injunctions to refuse admission to anyone in a state bordering even on intoxication, and if anything then does occur, it only requires a little tact to seduce the aggressors to withdraw of their own accord, without the necessity occurring for physical expulsion."
I can personally speak in the highest terms of Mr. Somers' tact in general, not only with regard to this feature of his engagement, but also in connection with the regulation of those behind the scenes. When anything unpleasant occurs between the artistes, as now and then they do in the best regulated of establishments, Mr. Somers' genial presence alone is required to smooth the ruflled waters, and mediate satisfactorily between the dissatisfied ones. This alone would be sufficient to account for Mr. Somers' immense popularity among the members of the music hall profession.
Right - A Music Hall and Theatre Review for a Farewell Benefit for Laurie Somers at the Folly Theatre, Manchester published on Saturday July 18th 1891 - Courtesy Sue Green. Also see the Bill for this benefit above left)
Mr. Somers has been born in the profession, and is extremely well known among theatrical and music hall artistes and managers - his special penchant being the want of the house, and the commercial side of the management. All Mr. Somers' relatives seem specially connected with the profession in a similar capacity. Mr. Somers was eighteen months with Mr. William Holland, as manager of the Albert Palace at Battersea, and is held in exceptional esteem by that gentleman.
In 1865, Mr. Somers was engaged in the financial department at St. James's Theatre, London, and subsequently in a similar capacity at the Globe Theatre. There are few better authorities on theatrical matters of this period, Mr. Somers having been in the very thick of it.
Mr. Somers has been a great organiser of exhibits of "shows" in connection with them, and as such is hard indeed to beat. He is at home in every department of the work, and has been entrusted with the management of several of the finest Exhibitions of Fine Arts ever shown. He has also introduced to the public some of the d'oeuvres of eminent artistes, which are now becoming prevalent in large towns.
Mr. Somers was born in London in 1845 (he is afraid of anyone knowing his age), so that he reached forty-six, though no one would judge the good-natured, jovial little gentleman to be approximating to this age.
During the disastrous management of Mr. Garcia the Folly Music Hall had-gradually sunk from bad to worse until it seemed very likely that its days were numbered. The very seats and building were out of repair, the situation being probably caused by Mr. Garcia's lack of funding resulted no doubt from that gentleman's losses, brought about by his having too many irons in the fire.
The "Company" appealed to Mr. G. A. Farini, who took the general management, and after looking at the state of affairs, notified the company that there was one man only qualified to resuscitate the fallen fortune of the Folly Music Hall, and if this gentleman failed, the company might consider the task impossible. Needles to say that the gentleman referred to was Mr. Somers?
He came, he saw, he conquered. The Folly was put in a perfect state of repair, the best London artistes were engaged, and step by step the Folly's popularity was reborn until it reached its present glorious success. As Mr. Somers stated, "It was a terrible up-hill fight, and the ship sunk so low that I almost despaired of my task, but I struggled on and on, until at length my efforts have been rewarded by the splendid results you see to-night,"
Mr. Somers complains bitterly about the general public ignoring music halls, but he has considerably assisted his own person, in forcing the acknowledgment that music halls are as much a power in the land at the present time as theatres, and, as Mr. Somers states, "they are considerably more numerous."
I ventured to ask Mr. Somers as to whether it was a fact that last Christmas he took the whole of the Company to Withington Workhouse to give an entertainment to the poor inmates. He replied in the affirmative and added, "I am at all times most anxious and willing to assist by any means in my power the various charitable institutions in the locality. I shall always be ready to come to the front both for sociability and charity." Replying to further queries, Mr. Somers pleaded guilty to having taken the Folly Company to the Jewish Club in Chee? Hill, where they gratuitously performed before an audience of Israelites mustering 1,100 strong.
Mr. Somers has introduced some of the leading Local people to the Folly, and this week not only has he brought the two premier ventriloquists, in the persons of Lieutenant Walter Cole and Lieutenant Travis, but has secured the eminent comedian Mr. Charles Collette, who is an exceptionally strong card at a Manchester hall.
In reply to further questions, Mr. Somers said: "I have engagements with almost all the leading artistes in the profession for the next three years. I have five engagements with Mr. Charles Godfrey, and an equal number with the Two Macs, and the latest Manchester success, Vesta Tilley, comes in November."
Miss Tilley, by-the-bye, is married to a cousin of Somers, in the person of Mr. Walter H. de Freece, son of the well-known music-hall manager, of Liverpool.
Mr. Laurie A. Somers is a really nice fellow, and I sincerely hope that he may remain with us in Manchester until he turns grey in the service, and retires finally with that immense fortune which is usually so slow of coming and so quick at departing.
The portrait of Mr. Somers on the front page is from a photograph by the well-known photographer, Mr. Bar?, 65, Market Street, Manchester.'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Manchester Spy, 12th of June 1891 and is courtesy of Laurie Somers' granddaughter, Sue Green. Parts of the text were unreadable and have been replaced by a '?'.
After the Folly Theatre was rebuilt as the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties in 1897 Laurie Somers resumed his management there, an article in 'The Manchester Programme of Entertainments and Pleasure' carried a photograph of him (shown right), and article about him in their 14th of November 1898 edition saying:- 'The subject of our present sketch needs no introduction to our readers. Mr. Laurie Somers first entered Manchester in a professional capacity in the year 1890, and it will be well remembered how successfully for a term of years he managed the old Folly Theatre of Varieties. Upon his secession from it the fortunes of the old house turned, and eventually the theatre was closed and afterwards pulled down.
Upon the building of the elegant and charmingly appointed bijou theatre, known as the Tivoli Theatre of Varieties, the afore-time successful manager, phoenix-like, re-appeared, and was welcomed enthusiastically to his new appointment by a large circle of friends and admirers.
Mr. Somers, who is now renewing his former success, is indeed much esteemed and respected both for his amiability and his business capacity, and since the opening of the Tivoli he has placed before the Manchester public entertainments that will stand comparison with any either in this city or the kingdom...'
The above text in quotes was first published in the Manchester Programme of Entertainments and Pleasure 14th of November 1898 - Courtesy Laurie Somers' Granddaughter Sue Green.
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