History of the Everyman

 

The Importance Of Being Earnest

“We had no mission statement, no business plan, no carefully prepared marketing strategy, no glossy brochure to show potential investors and, above all, no money – but we did have boundless enthusiasm, energy and belief.” – Martin Jenkins

The Everyman was born, more or less through chance, at the 1962-1963 National Student Drama Festivals. Martin Jenkins, Peter James, and Terry Hands founded a new company on a shoestring budget, operating out of a building that was still licensed by its landlord as a cinema and nightclub at the weekends. With a grant and capital of £3,000 from Liverpool Council they set to work devising a schedule for their first season of productions – 44 weeks from the 28 th of September, 1964.

Necessity shaped the policy and early output of the Everyman in unusual ways, thrusting it into the civic consciousness of Liverpool almost by accident. With the knowledge that their venue, the former Hope Hall, would still be in use as a cinema on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, Jenkins, James, and Hands had to find other ways to draw in audiences, and hit on a way: They would produce plays on the syllabus of schools within a 30-mile radius of Liverpool, and avoid the public perception that they were solely for schools by putting on evening performances – some aimed solely at an adult audience.

The months prior to the opening of the Everyman were chaotic – the distinctive thrust stage was erected, the season was outlined, the cast and crew were assembled, sets were built, and everything came together almost on time. The most vivid memories of the cast and crew of Henry IV Part I tend to be of the hectic pace of the work; Peter James recalls nailing the auditorium’s seats to the floor in full costume as the audience assembled outside the building, and Terry Taplin became stuck to a freshly varnished chair during the opening performance.

The Mersey Funnel

Photograph Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

The first years were a knife’s-edge operation for the fledgling Everyman; that the theatre would fold was not so much considered as expected, yet the company was able to court catastrophe whilst putting on an impressive season of work including productions such as Murder in the Cathedral, Henry IV, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Caretaker, and An Enemy of the People. The company braved intense cold inside and out of the theatre, primitive conditions, cuts in wages, and spiralling debt. Grants and charitable donations brought the theatre through its first season intact, and it produced without hiccup the season of plays originally laid out at the founding of the company. The early years saw the Everyman develop what was to become its own distinctive style in plays such as The Hypochondriac, as well as court controversy and deal with difficult topics – as in the play Jack of Spades. The theatre also produced its first musical documentary, a style which was to become synonymous with the Everyman. The Mersey Funnel, written to commemorate the opening of the Roman Catholic Cathedral which was to become the theatre’s neighbour, included interviews with local people. During these years it also saw a flowering of poetry readings, art exhibitions, and late night film theatre, as well as the opening of the Bistro beneath Hope Hall by Dave Scott and Paddy Byrne, firmly entrenching the Everyman on Liverpool’s cultural map.

Tarzan’s Last Stand

“Our policy this year is that we want plays dealing with social and political problems that people in Liverpool are facing.” – Alan Dossor, 1970

“You could come away from the Liverpool Everyman raving about revolution, fascism, corruption and the evils of capitalism until your politics became as red as your face.” – Robert Armstrong, The Guardian, May 1972

The 1970-1971 Season at the Everyman saw the emphasis given to “social” plays – productions that dealt with the history, social issues, and life of Liverpool. Stephen Fagan’s The Braddocks’ Time was a history and mythology of former Liverpool Council leader and MP for Liverpool Exchange Bessie Braddock, set in a boxing ring and – in part – to music. Despite a lack of commercial success, The Braddocks’ Time struck a chord with the Everyman, and the Progressive Ideal found itself in full swing under Artistic Director Alan Dossor. Productions such as Welfare and Unruly Elements continued this trend, which was to reach an apex in the following season with McGrath’s urban social musical, Soft or a Girl. Considered the theatrical equivalent of a political cartoon, Soft or a Girl was seen both entertaining and socially relevant, and drew both acclaim and audiences in equal measure. Dossor saw it as the result of two seasons of building audiences that would be receptive to such a work, and the Everyman seemed to have found a way to bring its message to the wider world.

The Everyman also saw its first controversial poster in this period – a cartoon image of a seated man having his feet hacked off by an axe to publicise the 1973 production of Richard III, which was considered offensive and tasteless in the Wirral and criticised at a council meeting. Combining local interest with a flair for the dramatic and the absurd, plays such as Tarzan’s Last Stand and When the Reds… defined the Everyman, as did 1973’s John, Paul, George, Ringo … and Bert, Willy Russell’s history of the Beatles, their lives, and their impact on the city. A phenomenal success, the play made household names of Willy Russell and singer Barbara Dickson and toured to the West End, bringing national recognition to the Theatre and the company. The Everyman closed in 1976 for refurbishment with Hooley’s Hope Street Wake, and the company (under the artistic directorship of Chris Bond) spent eighteen months touring the Merseyside area, performing plays with a pronounced local interest in pubs, clubs, church halls, and schools. The September 1978 re-opening was a gala performance of Chris Bond’s The Beggar’s Opera set on a new stage in a building described by General Manager John Gardner as upgraded from “basic uncomfort to basic comfort”.

Funny Peculiar

Photograph Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

The Warp

“Ken Campbell running his own house will be brilliant or disastrous, but he won’t be boring.” – Robin Thorber, TheGuardian, August 1980.

“The production I understand was disgusting. It neither educated nor entertained people except those with warped minds.” – Councillor Danny Dougherty, concerning The Warp

Ken Campbell’s time as artistic director, from 1980-1981, saw a lot of public interest in the Theatre – much of it in the form of outrage. His production of Neil Oram’s The Warp – a twenty-hour odyssey through British alternative culture from the 1950s to the late 1970s – used much of the Everyman’s space as a number of stages, uprooting the chairs from the theatre and encouraging the audience to sit on unused parts of the set, sometimes involving audience members in the play when the action ranged over to their part of the theatre. First shown as one production, the Everyman’s expanded, revised, and amended version of The Warp was split into ten parts and shown over ten weeks – a soap opera of hippies, wizards, new age cults, and personal discovery. The Warp was a success, and the audience responded well to the episodic format, though it was not without its detractors. Controversial scenes involving Eithne Hannigan in plays Two and Three resulted in slurs, allegations of moral degeneracy, and the actress in question head-butting a Daily Mail journalist.

War With Newts

Photograph Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

The 1980-1981 season embraced a furious spirit of creativity and improvisation, showing counter-culture, disco, and country as well as horror comedy musical The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and the bizarre War With The Newts. For the latter production, John Patrick Deery was contractually obliged to wear a false nose and glasses at all times within a mile of Hope Street, and much of the action was seen through the reactions of contemporary personalities played by impressionists such as Jonathan Barlow and Caroline Bernstein.

Ken Campbell was to produce further shows at the Everyman in the 1981-1982 season, including Old King Cole. The pantomime took a very different tack from that of more traditional offerings, putting the scheming comedy burglars at centre stage and relegating a lot of the more sentimental elements of pantomime to the background in favour of physical comedy. It was to set the tone for the Everyman’s Christmas offerings for some time to come.


The Threepenny Opera

“If you live in a tower block you know how miserable it is – you don’t want to see shows about it. The audience needs to ask questions again rather than be told answers.” – Glen Walford, Arts Alive, October 1984

“WOMEN IN RUSH FOR THEATRE’S ‘PORNO’ POSTER” – Liverpool Echo Headline, October 1984

The Threepenny Opera

Poster Image Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Glen Walford arrived as Artistic Director in 1984, and made excellent use of the elements that had previously made the Everyman a success: Young, enthusiastic casts, music, comedy, and controversy. The 1984 production of The Threepenny Opera was the first to court the public’s outrage. The poster, depicting three women in leather, fishnets, spiked hair and heavy eye make-up, created a storm of indignation and complaints, particularly from feminist groups such as Women Against Violence Against Women and tabloid bastions of moral fortitude such as the Daily Mail. The offending poster, while withdrawn from Mersey Rail stations, sold out in record time at the Everyman’s box office – predominantly to women, as press officer Cindy Gallop claimed – and the show enjoyed an average audience of 88% throughout its run. Staving off numerous financial troubles during Ms. Walford’s first year, including bailiffs seizing office equipment during the opening of a new show, the Everyman broke its box office records and managed to struggle through a hard season with little public funding support.

Future seasons included a new musical reworking of Tosca, a “Club Med” version of The Taming of the Shrew, the world premiere of Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, the deranged science fiction of Slaughterhouse Five, and a new annual tradition of musical pantomimes based around classic rock instigated by Return To The Forbidden Planet and inaugurated with Wack and the Beanstalk. With the theatre in the news as much for events surrounding the plays as the plays themselves – casting babies for A Winter’s Tale, or tetanus inoculations for the cast of Macbeth on a famously unhygienic set – the Everyman became synonymous with adventurous productions, challenging performances, and locally-based, rocking pantomimes.

Love at a Loss

“I like good writing.” – John Doyle

“At the Liverpool Everyman, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide explodes like a hand grenade in a nursery.” – John Peter, Sunday Times, June 1992

The transition from the 1980s to the 1990s saw John Doyle as Artistic Director, continuing the ideas and methods of his predecessor while putting his own interpretation on them, as well as staging the season with a permanent company for the first time in over a decade. The first season’s programme was nothing less than ambitious, including The Trojan Women, a western musical adaptation of Lysistrata, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore adapted to the world of organised crime, and the premiere of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Victory Celebrations. The now-traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto remained, with Sleeping Beauty, and projects were undertaken that played to the historic strengths of the Everyman. These included a version of The Nativity that toured Merseyside, marking the first time since 1978 that the Everyman company had performed in a travelling production, as well as a cast of seven performing Brecht’s A Caucasian Chalk Circle. Similar ambition drove a production of the rarely performed Candide, a musical requiring a particularly large cast, on a shoestring budget and with a cast of only twelve (including musicians). Candide experienced one major hiccup – the theatre had difficulties acquiring the 5,000 balloons necessary for the production – and the production had acclaim enough to tour nationally.

Candide

Photograph Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Financial troubles dogged the Everyman throughout the early 1990s as they always had in the past, with potential aid found to involve more clauses and provisos than it previously had – a union with the Playhouse, or reduced freedom for the Artistic Director in terms of policy-making and programme choices. A tangled mire of Arts Council policy, local financial trouble, and funding directives marooned the Theatre, forcing it to make all but four of the Administrative staff redundant after the final performance of The Gambler in May of 1993.

Thirty Something

“FINAL CURTAIN FOR PIONEERING THEATRE” – Daily Post headline, October 1993

“Panto was always a laugh. The company would be together for so long, a real sense of camaraderie built up – probably the nearest approximation to the team spirit of the early days of the Everyman that I would ever experience there.” – Lucy Dossor

The closure of the theatre and retention of only administrative staff saw a shift in the way in which the theatre was run for the first time since its inception. Kevin Fearon took on the role of Executive Producer, running the theatre’s administrative side while directors, performers, and companies were brought in to perform a range of entertainments ranging from dance and Jazz performances to the distinctive Shakespeare of Northern Broadsides and Peter Rowe’s Death and the Maiden. While the rotating companies brought no permanent character to the productions of the time, companies such as Northern Broadsides and Kaboodle were a regular sight at the Everyman and brought genuinely creative works to the theatre in the Everyman’s style. As well as productions such as Frankie & Tommy and Night Collar, the period saw the Everyman play host to Out of Joint’s production of Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F***ing, showing that it was still no stranger to controversy.

Caravan

Image Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Throughout the next few years, Kevin Fearon would build momentum and reputation for the theatre he had been hired to close up, bringing it further from the brink of financial collapse it had perennially occupied. Shows such as Sgt. Pepper’s Magical Mystery Trip and Scouse brought local interest and social issues back to the Theatre, and Caravan added a vein of black comedy. The closure of the Playhouse Theatre in 1998 became an opportunity, and “Playing Away” productions by the Everyman, usually staged at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre, were staged at the Playhouse and seen as a general indicator that the two theatres would be merged by the turn of the Millennium. This was indeed to be the case and under Jo Beddoe, the theatres merged in 2000. It was also under Jo that the theatre started once more to commission new work and their first show was Maurice Bessman’s A Little Pinch of Chilli, a play which enabled former chef Louis Emerick to join the ranks of actors who cooked on stage – in this case a veal fricassee enlivened by enough chilli to make eyes water 15 rows back.

Life Begins

“As European Capital of Culture we have to be not only one of the foremost national theatres but one of the most important in Europe.” – Gemma Bodinetz

“Liverpool is the stage, let’s light it up once more and have the eyes of humanity upon us.” – Laurence Wilson

“The popular culture of Liverpool exploded from three legendary live venues, only one of which survives. The Cavern, cradle of the beat boom, is now a car park surrounded by souvenir shops. The fabled upstairs bar at Eric's lingers only in the lyrics and liner notes of the post-punk bands that met and performed there. Only the Everyman Theatre, the famously scruffy home of radical Scouse writing, has clung on to celebrate its 40th birthday.” Alfred Hickling, The Guardian, 8 th September 2004

The turbulence of the close of the Twentieth Century followed the newly united Everyman and Playhouse theatres into the new decade, with dwindling resources, staff cuts, and few in-house productions to grasp the attention of the Liverpool audience. Despite it all, the theatres still managed to keep going with a central administrative team and policy, and were injected with new life and funding following the city’s mid-2003 naming as European Capital of Culture 2008. Under the administration of Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz and Executive Director Deborah Aydon, the theatres have emerged from a difficult few years and are experiencing a new lease of life. At the heart of this revival in fortunes have been two old Everyman stalwarts: new writing and local interest. The theatres are foregrounding the ‘Made in Liverpool’ logo which encompasses in-house productions (including the 2004 European premiere and the theatre’s first national touring production of Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman) and more significantly new writing. Recent new works have included: Katie Douglas’ Fly, Laurence Wilson’s Urban Legend, Helen Blakeman’s The Morris and Unprotected, a verbatim play about street sex workers (written by Esther Wilson, John Fay, Lizzie Nunnery and Tony Green), which won Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award in Edinburgh 2006. The 40 th anniversary of the theatre’s opening was celebrated with the premiere of The Kindness of Strangers by Tony Green, a play about asylum-seeking that re-established the Everyman tradition of large-cast, epic dramas with music, a political message and a goat. The 40 th Birthday celebrations also provided the occasion for the launch of the Life Begins Fund, the theatres commitment to commission two new writers each year in the lead up to 2008.

Kindness of Strangers

Photograph Courtesy of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse