The Playhouse Theatre (C) Sarah O' Hara

In the first in our series about Theatres in Liverpool, Sarah O’ Hara takes us on a personal journey to the iconic Everyman & Playhouse…

The first time I stepped inside the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, I was in awe.

Nestled in Williamson Square, the Playhouse was one of the few theatres I had not yet visited as a teenager.

Yet walking through its doors, I would begin a lifelong love for a theatre that I have not stopped visiting since.

When I first visited the Playhouse to watch A Midsummer Nights Dream, I fell in love with the details in the arch above the stage, set amongst the opulent 19th century auditorium.

The auditorium is a part of the building’s history as the Star Music Hall, which opened in 1866, prior to the Playhouse Theatre opening on the same site in 1911.

Sat in my seat, gorgeous hues of faded blue and gold on the stage arch were beautiful to gaze upon.

To this day, I still find myself looking upon the arch and losing myself in my thoughts before the shows begin.

I remember thinking that the satirically wonderful A Christmas Carol by Spy Monkey felt particularly at home in the auditorium.

Aitor Basauri as Charles Dickens was wonderful; his interactions with the audience were reminiscent of vaudeville performances. With a multi-talented cast, quick costume changes and hilarious musical numbers, this production fitted well with the Playhouse’s music hall past.

Spy Monkey’s brilliant production in 2018 was one of my favourite Playhouse Christmas shows, matched only by the phenomenal Haunting of Hill House in 2015.

This production was a psychological thriller that I still talk about. Sat in row two, I can still feel the fog rolling from the stage and the projections casting shadows, building anticipation what may happen next in the tale.

Whether it be the Haunting of Hill House or the equally brilliant Baskervilles, you never know what the Christmas Show at the Playhouse will bring. This makes the season announcements all the more exciting.

Looking back to my early visits to the theatre, long before shows like The Haunting of Hill House, I recalled another aspect of the Playhouse Theatre (and the Everyman) that changed my life. This was their discounted tickets scheme for under 25 year olds.

This is a scheme that still runs as part of the Young Everyman and Playhouse Programme. From 2012, the programme has since expanded to include creative arts strands, such as Young Everyman Actors and Young Everyman Writers.

I would visit the theatres in Liverpool a few times in a year as a teenager, but this programme enabled me to visit the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres more regularly.

As a Drama Student I found the programme invaluable. It made theatre more financially accessible to me, allowing me to expand my theatre knowledge and discover new writers and production companies.

Through the programme, I saw a range of productions including The Hypochondriac at the Playhouse and The Moon, The Moon, which introduced me to The Everyman Theatre.

The Everyman again, is another theatre for which I have a lifelong love.

Founded in 1964, The Everyman joined with the Playhouse in 2003 as part of the Liverpool and Merseyside Theatres Trust.

The Everyman has since gone through an extensive refurbishment and reopened to include a refurbished Theatre space, new Studio space, Writers room, Cafe and Bistro, plus much more.

The Everyman (C) Sarah O’ Hara

During the Everyman Theatre refurbishment, the Rock and Roll Pantomimes that generations of audiences adore, temporarily moved to the Playhouse.

My best friend often recalls the Aladdin Pantomime at the Playhouse as one of the most unforgettable shows she has ever seen.

Indeed, it is difficult to forget the enduring and hilarious image of Adam Keast dressed as a giant shrimp, wrestling with a puppet shark in the mid-air.

From villains singing rock classics like ‘One Way or Another’, to characters disguised as snowballs, fish and a range of fabulous creatures, anything and everything goes.

When the Everyman Theatre reopened in March 2014, I was one of the lucky few to have a tour of the building before it opened to the public.

I remember walking into the main theatre space. A sea of red seats lined the two levels.

Then the thought – what stories will enchant audiences in this space?

Luckily it wasn’t too long before we found out.

Twelfth Night was the first production to reopen the Everyman Theatre in March 2014.

The production opened to critical acclaim and remains one of my favourite interpretations of the story.

Since then, I have been enthralled by productions including a beat-box musical Frankenstein: Making a Monster and the Everyman Rep Company’s performance of Romeo and Juliet, which also featured members of the Young Everyman Actors Company.

It was a delight to see the variety of productions performed by the Everyman Rep Company between 2017-2018, including Fiddler on the Roof and A Clockwork Orange.

However, the production of The Story Giant was charming and one of my favourites from the Rep Company’s 2017 season.

A giant tree adorned the centre stage, while four performers took on the roles of children from across the world, telling stories in the middle of the night. I still have my ‘Save the Story Giant’ badge; a firm reminder of the power of storytelling and the joy and inspiration it can bring to others.

Through the years I have loved the stories that have come to life on the Everyman and Playhouse Stages.

I have travelled through the power of storytelling to docklands in Sting’s emotive musical The Last Ship, and to Eel Marsh House in the terrifying adaption of The Woman in Black.

I adored Nick Bagnall’s 21st Century retelling of the Sondheim Musical Sweeney Todd, with its minimalist staging and phenomenal cast – a masterclass in theatre, as I once described it.

There have been so many productions, yet each one stays with me.

These were just a few of my memories, but I hope they’ve reminded you of some of your favourite shows at two of our city’s beloved theatres.