I recently acquired two original playbills from the ‘Theatre Royal’, Liverpool. This one dates from 1838 and relates to ‘Lady of Lyons’ (also known as ‘Love and Pride’) which was written by the prolific novelist and playwright Baron Lytton the very same year. It premiered in New York and is seen by many as the inspiration for the first grand American opera, ‘Leonora’. Here on Merseyside it was staged at the ‘Theatre Royal’ in Williamson Square which had first opened in 1772 after moving from its original premises in Drury Lane.
Smith’s ‘Stranger’s Guide’ of 1843 describes the theatre in some detail with the addition of one unusual incident:
“THE THEATRE ROYAL in Williamson Square, is the only patent theatre in Liverpool, and therefore the only one in which the legitimate drama can be performed. It has a semi-circular stone front, with a rusticated basement, and the upper story is ornamented by coupled Ionic pilasters, bas-reliefs, &c. It was erected in 1772, at an expense of £6000, and has had additions subsequently made to it. The interior is very commodious, elegantly finished, and well adapted to the purpose for which it is intended. Connected with the early history of this theatre is an incident, which, at the period of its occurrence, produced a great impression on the public mind. On the 2nd August, 1798, during the play of ‘The Stranger,’ Mr. John Palmer, of the London stage, suddenly dropped down and expired after having uttered the words; “There is another- and a better world.” The spectators thinking that it was an incident in the play felt no alarm. The body was removed from the stage, but all attempts to restore animation were fruitless. When the announcement was made, an intense sensation, which it is impossible to describe, pervaded the audience, who slowly and silently retired.”
The ‘Theatre Royal’ was closed its doors for the final time in 1896 and the building was put to use as a cold storage unit until its 1970’s demolition. The Liverpool F.C store now stands on the site.