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LIVERPOOL Playhouse has launched the careers of some of the biggest stars of stage and screen over the years.

Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence were child actors at the Williamson Square theatre, while Michael Redgrave, Richard Briers and Rex Harrison all appeared there in early productions.

The Playhouse, now celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1968 extension, shone brightly throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

A young Anthony Hopkins, Michael Gambon, Stephen Berkoff and Liverpool's own Ken Dodd starred in a series of ground-breaking plays and productions.

The Knotty Ash funnyman even tried his hand at Shakespeare when he played Malvolio in Twelfth Night in 1971.

Liverpool Playhouse started life in 1866 as the Star Concert Hall. Electricity was installed in 1898 along with a new auditorium and foyer.

Liverpool Repertory Company bought the theatre in 1911 for PS28,000, becoming the first rep company in the country to own its theatre outright.

The theatre was renamed the Liverpool Playhouse in 1916 and underwent a series of minor alterations up to the 1960s.

The big change came in 1968 when the distinctive glassfronted extension was added to the north of the theatre. It included new bars, foyers, dressing rooms and a workshop. One of the fledgling stars to benefit from the new building was Harry Potter star Michael Gambon.

The future Professor Dumbledore appeared in David Storey's play In Celebration in January 1970. Alongside him was Liverpool actor Ivan Beavis, who played bus driver Harry Hewitt in the first episodes of Coronation Street.

As well as playing Malvolio, Ken Dodd brought his own oneman show to the Playhouse in April 1973.

It featured Doddy in a variety of guises, ranging from music hall comedian George Robey to American author Mark Twain.

Actor and playwright Stephen Berkoff picked up some firsthand experience when he appeared in the World War II drama The Long and the Short and the Tall in October, 1965.

The play, by Willis Hall, was set in the Malayan campaign in 1942 and revolved around the fate of a Japanese soldier taken prisoner by a British patrol in Burma.

To get "in character", the cast were sent to the Alamein Barracks in Huyton to be put through their paces by Sergeant Bill Davies of the Scots Guards.

What he made of the motley crew is not recorded, but our photos show him holding his head in despair as the actors tried to march in time!

Anthony Hopkins played prison warder Donelly in Brendan Behan's first play The Quare Fellow, staged by the Playhouse in September 1964.

The 'quare' or strange fellow of the title is never seen; the play is a debate over his death sentence in an Irish prison.

Hopkins' breakthrough came the following year when Laurence Olivier invited him to join the Royal National Theatre as his understudy. Film, stage and TV glory followed.

| Many more unmissable photos feature in Clive Hardy's brilliant book Around Liverpool and Merseyside in the 1960s. | Echo readers can order their copy at the introductory price of PS9.99 plus PS1.99 P&P. Go to or ring the order hotline on 01928 503777. Don't miss out on the remarkable story of an unforgettable decade!


Michael Gambon, far right, in the play In Celebration, January, 1970. Also pictured are Alan Partington, Stuart Wilson, Ivan Beavis, Anthony Douse, Hele Booth and Gabrielle Hamilton

Sergeant Bill Davies can't believe his eyes as he drills Playhouse actors in Huyton, October, 1965

Anthony Hopkins in The Quare Fellow at the Playhouse, in September of 1964

Architect Colin Wilson, James Rushworth (chairman) and Lord Simey (deputy chairman) examine a model of the new Playhouse extension in December 1965

Patrick Stewart, left, in Dr Angelus at the Playhouse in January, 1964

The sparkling new extension of the Playhouse casts its light across Williamson Square on September 13, 1968, right. Ken Dodd, above, played Malvolio in Twelfth Night on the Playhouse stage in 1971
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 20, 2018
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