“No one person can make a theatre. The vital thing is teamwork – from the callboys and cleaners upwards.” – but if anyone helped create the Liverpool Playhouse, it was Maud Carpenter.
After a spell at the Kelly’s Theatre in Paradise Street, Maud Carpenter joined the Liverpool Playhouse in its first experimental season in 1911. Starting in the box office, she showed an aptitude for accountancy and administration which led to her quickly being appointed assistant manager. By 1922, she had been offered the role of manager and licensee, a position she embraced enthusiastically until 1962 when she retired. The theatre was her life. She was held in such high esteem by her peers that she was invited to become the first woman to join the board in 1945 and remained in the role of vice-president until her death in 1967. In total, she worked at the theatre for 51 years,
She was so influential in the theatre and the city, she was even known as the unofficial Lady Mayoress of Liverpool. It was said that she knew very little about ‘theatre’, and would often get the titles of plays mixed up. However, what she had an uncanny knack for was knowing what audiences would come to see; and she played a critical role throughout the Playhouse’s development, alongside the directors she worked with, seeing it through the good times and the bad with equal enthusiasm. During the Second World War, for example, Maud volunteered for night time fire watching and during the blitz, would stand on top of the Playhouse roof shouting to the Germans, “Don’t bomb my theatre. Don’t bomb my theatre.”
She valued the image of the theatre and its importance in the city, insisting that every actor arrive in style – or at the very least, a taxi – to preserve some sense of decorum and mystique. She even once scolded a young Sir Anthony Hopkins for turning up in jeans and an open neck shirt, rather than the sports jacket and tie she would have preferred. On performance nights, she would stand in the foyer and greet patrons – many by name; and at the end she would politely ask them what play they would be coming to see next.
Her whole existence was dedicated to the preservation and smooth-running of the theatre and the comfort and entertainment of its audiences. During her lifetime, she was awarded an OBE and an honorary degree from Liverpool University.
She died on 18th June 1967. Tributes were affectionate and many, and her gravestone records her dedication to the theatre she loved.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.