New exhibition at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum relives the heyday of live entertainment

The Williamson Art Gallery & Museum will host an exhibition about the Argyle Theatre of Varieties starting this month.

Opened in Birkenhead in 1868, the Argyle Theatre in Birkenhead entertained thousands of people and featured artistes who became household names nationally and internationally.

Stars who were already famous such as Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, Harry Houdini, Arthur Lloyd and more appeared at the Argyle. It also hosted performers at the start of their careers including Charlie Chaplin, Billie Burke, George Formby, and later a young Betty Driver and Pat Kirkwood.

The Argyle was a theatre of firsts, and this exhibition will tell these stories. It was the first theatre outside London to show moving pictures in 1896, and the first music hall to broadcast to America in the 1930s.

Many of the performers from that time Ted Ray, Tommy Trinder, Tessie O’Shea would become favourites with a television audience.

Sadly the Argyle received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb in September 1940, and despite many efforts to raise the funds to restore it the theatre never re-opened.

Twice Nightly: The Argyle Theatre Remembered invites you to see Argyle playbills – once so familiar around Birkenhead advertising the shows – original items saved from the theatre, and memorabilia from public and private collections. You will get a sense of what Birkenhead was like in the heyday of live performance. Many of the items have been lent by the Clarke family who owned and ran the theatre through three generations.

Project Coordinator Cathy Warren said, “It has been fascinating to discover the story of Birkenhead’s famous Argyle Theatre of Varieties and it is a privilege to bring original memorabilia from basements, attics and archives, as well as from treasured collections, for people to see over the next few months.

“I am very grateful to all those who have helped with the preparation of the exhibition especially the Clarke family whose ancestors owned and managed the Argyle for over seventy years.”

The exhibition and events around it, including a schools’ programme and talks for the general public, are free thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and thanks to the support of Kaboodle Community Choir and Williamson Art Gallery.

The programme of events alongside the exhibition includes:

  • Talks by Mike Clarke, grandson of Theatre manager/owner Denis Clarke. Book tickets
  • Tours of the exhibition by project coordinator Cathy Warren. Book tickets
  • Informal musical interludes on the Gallery by Heswall Musical Society

Further information about the exhibition and related events can be found on the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum website

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