Liverpool Empire Theatre
An ornately decorated listed building with a history going back more than 150 years, the Liverpool Empire Theatre hosted the Beatles before they were famous. It has one of the largest two-tier auditoriums in Britain, with seating for 2,348 people.
The theatre hosts musicals, concerts, plays, variety shows, dance shows, comedy, children’s shows, opera, burlesque performances and even wrestling. Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Mae West, Laurel and Hardy, Julie Andrews, Arthur Askey, The Carpenters, Bruce Forsyth, Victoria Wood, Morecambe and Wise, Shirley Bassey and Kate Bush have all performed here.
In 2007, the theatre became one of only seven venues to have hosted a Royal Variety Performance. Disney also launched its first UK theatrical tour here with Beauty and the Beast.
The Beatles performed here in 1957 and 1959 when they were called, respectively, The Quarrymen and Johnny and the Moondogs. When they returned in 1965, at the height of their fame, the theatre was beyond packed – there were even people in the royal boxes which are not normally available, and the screaming of the audience made the performance inaudible at times.
The present-day theatre is the second to be built on the site. Its predecessor, the Prince of Wales Theatre and Opera House, renamed the Alexandra Theatre and Opera House the following year, opened in 1866, lit by gas and with stage machinery powered by steam.
Ellen Terry, Marie Lloyd and Sarah Bernhardt all performed there, but towards the end of the century the theatre began to struggle financially. At one point staff had to fight the bailiffs off with fire hoses.
After being sold and renamed The Empire, the theatre was pulled down in 1924 so a larger one could be built. The new building was probably the most up-to-date theatre in the provinces at that time, although it had a couple of design flaws. Firstly, it was based on an American design and so had no bars, as Prohibition was in force at the time. This was swiftly remedied. Secondly, you can’t actually see the stage from the royal boxes!
The theatre proved popular during World War II, despite the raids over Liverpool and Birkenhead. It was damaged by a bomb which set fire to one of the boxes.
The theatre is reputedly haunted by two ghosts – a painter at the theatre called Len, and a girl of about nine or ten in Victorian clothes.
The theatre is in Lime Street, next to the train station, on the corner with London Road.
If you’re coming by car, the satnav postcode is L1 1JE. There is no car park at the theatre, but there are several a short walk away. The closest ones are in Mount Pleasant, Lord Nelson Street, Queen Square, which offers discounted parking for theatregoers after 17:00, and St John’s Shopping Centre, which does the same after 18:00. If you’re coming by train, take the Lord Nelson Street exit out of Lime Street station.
Its excellent city centre location means we have a vast range of hotels near the Liverpool Empire Theatre – and with so much to explore in the city, from the Liverpool ONE shopping mall to the waterfront, the Beatles Story to the Mersey Ferries cruises, it’d be rude not to stay a bit longer.
The theatre has four bars, a snack kiosk, and two lifts. There is also a three-floor function suite that can be used for events, parties and conferences.
The Empire runs backstage tours, dance and drama workshops, and talks and activities for schools, community groups, adults and children.
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