The closure of Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre will consign the city’s proud history of working class actors and productions “to the past” it has been claimed.
Almost two weeks ago, the curtain came down on the Grade II listed arts venue for the final time. After financial support provided by Liverpool Council came to an end, the 380-seat theatre closed its doors with the authority citing a need to “deliver value for money for the taxpayer.”
The decision has been widely criticised by theatre lovers and activists, including the Liverpool Liberal Democrats who have now laid down a motion for the next meeting of the full council calling on action to be taken to get the theatre open again. The text describes the closure of the Epstein as “cultural vandalism.”
Since 1913, the theatre based within Hanover House has staged thousands of productions under various guises. In 2018 an agreement was struck between Epstein Entertainments Ltd, Liverpool Council and a commercial property landlord which owns the lease to the building but subleases the theatre back to the entertainment company.
As part of the management agreement, the council was to cover a proportion of the rent, service charge, utilities, and maintenance work. The local authority has financially supported the venue since the 1960s and its most recent expenditure on the Epstein was in excess of £100,000 per year.
However, this funding has now come to an end, along with the management agreement.
In the aftermath of Liverpool’s hosting Eurovision in May, the motion said creating a legacy from the event “depends on theatres such as the Epstein thriving and allowing the Epstein to close would damage that ‘legacy’ both at a local and national level. We are a city of music, drama and culture and this decision is nothing short of cultural vandalism, which will have an impact on the city’s reputation for years to come.”
The motion, which seeks support from all members, said the council’s executive should look to encourage further discussions between the tenant and Epstein Entertainments Ltd to extend the sub-lease for the next five years and establish a dedicated board of trustees in partnership with Epstein Entertainments Ltd to oversee the Epstein Theatre’s transition towards a co-operative model or similar.
The text said failure to get the theatre back open could have a lasting impact on Liverpool’s rich performing heritage. It said: “The withdrawal of funding of the Epstein Theatre has resulted in its effective closure which, thereby, loses a well-loved stage to nurture, develop and provide an outlet for artistic talent in the city.
“Liverpool has a proud history of working-class actors and productions. This closure will consign this to the past and deprive our young people of wonderful opportunities.”
The motion will be considered by Liverpool Council when it meets on July 19 at Liverpool Town Hall.