The site of the Royal Court Theatre has been at the heart of Liverpool culture for nearly 200 years. It was first opened in 1826 as Cookes New Circus and renamed in 1831 as Cooke’s Amphitheatre of Arts, presenting a programme of opera, music, theatre and ballet.
It was renamed the Royal Court Theatre in 1881 and was the number one touring venue in Liverpool for popular theatre until the 1970s when it was taken over by Merseyside County Council.
Vivien Leigh, Fred Astaire, John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Yul Brynner, Margot Fonteyn, Ken Dodd and Ralph Richardson are just some of the names that appeared on stage during this period. Dame Judi Dench made her acting debut at the Royal Court in 1957 and has agreed to be a Patron of the Trust, supporting its campaign to renovate the theatre.
The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1933 and rebuilt in 1938 in the current Art Deco style of the era. The theatre has exemplary acoustics and sight-lines and boasts the biggest revolve stage outside of the West End. After 1976 the theatre was let on a series of short-term licences to commercial operators and was primarily used as a rock venue in the latter part of the 20th century, hosting big names such as R.E.M, David Bowie and Oasis, and then as a comedy venue.
The theatre has undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years. The current operating company have developed a unique style of theatre for Liverpool audiences (and increasingly audiences from outside of the region). Theatre that is produced in Liverpool, starring Liverpool actors, written by Liverpool writers is proving a huge success. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the theatre and experienced the unique cabaret-style stalls seating, dinner offer and drinks before the show.
The combination of a robust operating company, a busy theatre attracting new, supportive local audiences, the formation of the Royal Court Liverpool Trust and support from local agencies (including North West Development Agency, Arts Council North West, English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund) is unprecedented in the last 80 years of the theatre. We look forward to working together to secure its future.