Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Hippodrome Theatre, Birkenhead

The Hippodrome Theatre, originally known as Ohmy's Grand Circus, was built in Grange Road, Birkenhead in 1888. This venture was not successful and within 2 years it became the Gaiety Music Hall which lasted until 1898 when it became The Metropole Music Hall. In 1908, it was totally renovated, having been closed for three years becoming known for its drama productions.

Dennis J. Clarke, who ran the Argyle Theatre, took over in 1916, and changed the name to The Hippodrome. In 1934 it was sold to the Birkenhead Co-operative Society and replaced by a store.

According to Lowry's biographer, Gordon Bowker, Lowry cherished the memory of a visit to The Hipprodrome with his family to see a production of Shakespeare's Richard II in the early 20's. (Pursued By Furies Pgs.16-17 )

Lowry refers to the theatre in his first novel Ultramarine; "His whole being was drowning in memories, the smells of Birkenhead and of Liverpool were again heavily about him, there was a coarse glitter in the cinema fronts, children stared at him strangely from the porches of public-houses. Janet would be waiting for him a the Crosville bus stop, with her red mackintosh and her umbrella, while silver straws of rain gently pattered on the green roof..."Where shall we go? The Hippodrome or the Argyle? ..... I've heard there's a good show on at the Scala - (Pg. 27); "A little imagination and this was home. One of those Saturday nights with Janet at the Birkenhead Hippodrome. Twice nightly, 6:30, 8:40! Two two-and-fours please! The first house. The orchestra tuning up, like tired men snoring in different keys. The gathering rush of the falling curtain. When there is a fireproof screen of the proscenium opening it must be lowered at least once during every performance to see that it is in proper working order..." (Pg.98).

Lowry did attempt to write musical hall songs and this is documented in his interview with the Liverpool Echo before he set sail for the Far East in 1927. Lowry may have held ambitions to one day have his songs played at the likes of the Hippodrome. He certainly gave these ambitions to the character Hugh, another of Lowry's many alter-egos, in Under The Volcano; Hugh recalls the "advertisments for music halls up north. Birkenhead Hippodrome: twice nightly 6.30, 8.30..." and  "But above all there were his songs, which would now be published. What did anything matter when back home at that very Birkenhead Hippodrome perhaps, they were being played and sung, twice nightly, to crowded houses?" (Pg.168). Lowry also mentions the theatre in his short story 'Enter One In Sumptuous Armour': "An advertisement for the Hippodrome said Little Tich, 6:30, 8:30." (Psalms Pg. 233)

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