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The Royal Court Theatre Liverpool - History

Orginal Royal Court destroyed by fire in 1933
Built in the 12th century, the site of the current Royal Court Theatre was originally a water well. The turning point was in 1826 when a circus owner, John Cooke, bought the site for his circuses, plays, operas and concerts, and it became known as 'Cooke's Royal Amphitheatre of Arts.' During this time, Pablo Fanque, the white circus performer and proprietor immortalised in the Beatles song, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! performed here as a part of William Batty's circus.

 In 1881, the building was redesigned by Henry Sumner as a regular theatre and it was re-opened as the Royal Court. A fire destroyed the building in 1933 during the opera and drama that Howard and Wyndhams Ltd were staging. After a small delay, construction works began in March 1938 to ensure the theatre was rebuilt and reopened in October of the same year.

Firemen fighting the blaze at the Theatre

Looking from the Royal Court along Great Charlotte Street

The Royal Court Theatre we know now was opened on 17 October 1938. It had been totally rebuilt with a new Art Deco style, making it Liverpool's number one theatre with all its splendour and grandeur. The interior of the building holds a nautical theme, which is in line with Liverpool's seafaring traditions. The basement lounge has its design based on the Queen Mary liner. There are three viewing levels within the main auditorium: the Stalls, the Grand Circle and the Balcony.

The View along Roe Street toward St Georges Hall

Although the Blitz of World War Two destroyed many of the buildings around it, the Royal Court itself remained intact. Throughout the war, many well-known artists performed in the Royal Court, including Ivor Novello, Margot Fonteyn, John Gielgud and Richard Burton who appeared in an Emlyn Williams production. The 22-year old Judi Dench made her professional stage debut here in September 1957, playing Ophelia in an Old Vic production of Hamlet.

In 1980, two former Liverpool taxi drivers took the Royal Court in a new direction, moving away from traditional plays and instead transferring the focus to rock and pop concerts. Their first year ended promisingly and proved to be a successful strategy for the venue, which went on to play host to artists as internationally famous as Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M., Iron Maiden, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Roger Taylor, U2 and George Michael.

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