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28 October 2014

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Ghostly Goings On In Liverpool's Theatres
What spirits lurk in Liverpool's theatres?
Liverpool's many theatres have a few ghostly tales to tell, Emma Hardy checks out some spooky stories.
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Theatre is a superstitious business, what with ‘Scottish’ plays, broken legs and no whistling allowed in the dressing rooms. Liverpool’s theatres have their fair share of ghost stories, but are they just stories or are more than just the actors treading the boards at Liverpool’s theatres? Read on and make your own mind up…

playhouse theatre
Workmen at the Playhouse downed tools after sightings of ghosts
When contractors were refurbishing the Liverpool Playhouse in 1999, the workmen famously downed tools, being so scared to continue after numerous odd happenings and sightings of what they believed to be ghosts. The electricians reported several creepy incidents whist working on the wiring, including taps mysteriously being switched on, a ‘presence’ in the basement and heavy doors that were difficult to open slamming shut. With the amount of paranormal stories that are linked to the theatre, things unearthly may well be going on.

The main ghost who is said to haunt the Playhouse is that of a woman named Elizabeth, a cleaner at the venue before it was granted its licence. In 1897, when it was a music hall and variety theatre, Elizabeth was on stage, going about her usual cleaning duties when the fire iron came down on stage and struck her. She fell into the orchestra pit and broke her neck. Despite her death being recorded as an accident, the fire iron at the time was water powered, and needed someone to operate it. Elizabeth’s ghost is said to haunt the theatre’s gallery level, specifically the seat A5, which is always cold and spooky. She was last seen sitting there by the actress Pauline Daniels, in 1996.

Tour guides at the theatre used to talk about a ‘Grey Lady’ who wandered up and down the corridor outside what is now the upstairs rehearsal room. It wasn’t true, but there is a Grey Lady who haunts the theatre. The ghost of an elegant upper class woman who used to come to see plays on her own in the early days of the theatre (unheard of at the time), look out for her wandering from the stalls coffee bar area into the stalls seating area wearing a grey coat and hood. Also seen pacing up and down the stalls and wandering into the coffee bar area, dressed in a frock coat and top hat, is a well-to-do gentleman whose daughter ran away to join a repertory theatre in the early 1900’s. He’s still looking for her all these years later in phantom form.

Empire theatre
The Empire Theatre is haunted by a young girl
The Liverpool Empire has been host to more than its fair share of ghostly stories over the years but the ghost that most employees have sighted is that if a young Victorian girl, aged about ten. Over a forty year period she has been appearing late at night in the Stalls bar area when the building is being closed, and is often crying. Sometimes she is seen being dragged away by a man with dark eyes and disappears when approached. Nobody is certain who she is, but rumour has it that she fell to her death from the circle into the stalls when a previous theatre held the building that now house the Empire.

One ghost that has now left the building is that of the Black Phantom who dwelt in Dressing Room S, Stage Right. When the door was opened, a black shape would be reflected in the mirror directly opposite. The room was always dark and cold and for this reason performers would refuse to use it. After the building was refurbished in 1998 it ceased to be a dressing room and is now a large wardrobe.

Combining the words ‘ghost’, ‘theatre’ and ‘Liverpool’, have brought up two different spectres, both called Les, and both with a handyman’s profession. The Empire’s apparition, Les the Painter, was that of a man who decided to come back and haunt his old place of work after his death, and was seen in the actor’s changing room area.
Royal court
Royal Court Theatre
Les number two is a permanent fixture at the Royal Court. Here it is generally accepted that there is a resident ghost in the form of an ex-caretaker. It is so accepted in fact that he comes up regularly in conversation e.g. a pot of paint gets knocked over and, "It must have been Les". Yes, it’s a damn good excuse, but there is a story that backs up a good reason for him being trapped in the theatre forever - he died on the roof. He was clearing out the grids on an icy day when he slipped and broke his leg. He died of exposure and over the last twenty years there have been various sightings of him.

After researching these ghost stories I have a personal favourite. I’m a sceptic but sometimes a story comes along which is so far fetched that it has to be true. Take yourself off to the Everyman theatre on Hope Street and inhale deeply, for something smells strange here.

The Everyman still has traces of the original chapel it was converted from.
The Everyman is a spooky place. It is a building with a history, and there are still traces of the original chapel building that was converted to become a theatre. Shadows and ghostly footsteps seem to be the norm for such places and although the Everyman has these, it also has a male malevolence that leaves behind an unpleasant aroma. Enter the Ghost that Smells of Wee. Yes, wee, as in urine, as in men’s urinals, as in the manager has fumigated the stairs and it still smells. This male ghost haunts the area at the back of the auditorium and the men’s toilets and leaves behind a dreadful stench. He hasn’t been seen for a while – but he has been heard. Staff often report shadows in the men’s toilets last thing at night when they lock up, but there is no one there. Then, as the make their way to the exit doors at the back of the auditorium, there is the sound of hand driers switching on and lights flashing on and off in there. Dodgy electrics? No. All of the electricity is turned off from the lighting and sound room before the building is locked up for the night.

So, keep your eyes peeled. A handyman may in fact be a dead man and remember that most people these days choose not to walk around in Edwardian clothing. Have a sit in Gallery Seat A5 at the Playhouse. Breathe in the ghostly stench of urine in the Everyman and hurry back to your seat, because you never know who might be behind you in the theatre.

Words: Emma Hardy
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