First look inside new £38m Shakespeare North Playhouse

New images have revealed the first look inside the new Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot near Liverpool, ahead of its grand opening in July.

The ground-breaking new venue is home to the only 17th-century style, timber-built “Cockpit” theatre outside London, able to seat 450 spectators. Built entirely during the pandemic thanks to public funds and donations, the new venue is anticipated to attract over 140,000 visitors a year to the region. Lead architect for the project is Helm Architecture, and Austin-Smith: Lord as support architect.

Shakespeare North Playhouse will open its doors to the public with a joyful weekend of free festivities from July 15-17, forming a key part of Knowsley’s Borough of Culture celebrations.

Housed inside this modern, energy-efficient building, the venue is also home to a fully-accessible outdoor performance garden funded by the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, exhibition gallery, 60-seater studio theatre, learning centre, events spaces, and a café and bar with outdoor piazza.

Melanie Lewis, chief executive of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, said, “Revealing the building is wonderful. It’s a culmination of more than a decade of work by so many people, and yet in many ways this is just the start. Experiencing the building again but through the senses of our audience and our community will be a joy. I’m feeling their excitement and curiosity. It’s a privilege.

“The entire building is a work of art in its own right, but what I am most excited about is how people will use it; how they will be welcomed and feel safe; how they will be inspired by Shakespeare, the physical space, and the people. Most importantly, however, I am eager to see how people will explore their creativity here, be they seasoned performers, upcoming artists, or people exploring theatre for the first time.

“This space belongs to the people and it’s time to welcome them in.”

Cllr Graham Morgan, leader of Knowsley Council, the major investment partner in the project, said, “I couldn’t be more excited or prouder to be able to share these images and for people to get their first glimpse inside this remarkable building. Delivering a world class cultural venue for the people of Knowsley has been a long-held dream of the council and to see the Shakespeare North Playhouse almost ready to open its doors is a very special thing.

“The opening of the building is such a significant moment in Knowsley’s history and something that could not have been achieved without the determination and effort of so many people who have been involved in the project for more than a decade. I offer my thanks to everyone who has made this happen.

“I cannot wait for people to finally be able to explore the space and experience the Shakespeare North Playhouse for themselves in just a matter of weeks.”

Shakespeare North Playhouse is inspired by Prescot’s historic connections to William Shakespeare and a love of storytelling. In the 1590s, a remarkable theatre stood in the town and hosted performances made possible by the Earl of Derby, resident at Knowsley Hall. It is thought that it was the only purpose-built indoor playhouse outside of London, and players brought with them new shows from a certain popular playwright of the day… William Shakespeare.

Kicking off events from 6pm on Friday 15 July, All the Joy That You Can Wish will be a glorious ceremony of ‘local heroes’ including the builders who helped construct the venue, and Prescot Cables FC players, who will gather outside the theatre for a ceremony to celebrate the opening, as well as the heritage and community of Prescot.

Events continue with a weekend of Open Up performances on 16 and 17 July, curated by inspirational Prescot-born playwright, actor and community champion Ashleigh Nugent, acclaimed Artist of the Year in the 2021 Liverpool City Region Culture & Creativity Awards.

Open Up will also be the first chance for the public to experience tours of the “Cockpit” theatre.

Highlights of the venue’s spectacular opening season include a modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, and ‘Evenings with’ St Helens’ comedian Johnny Vegas, and acclaimed Liverpool playwright, Jimmy McGovern.

The venue will also host a programme of regular family and community activities and events during the opening season. This will include pre-school music, storytelling and spoken word sessions, monthly open mic nights for beginners and experienced performers, craft, heritage, art and writing workshops for families, local school children and adults.

In support of the Playhouse’s commitment to the local community and access to the arts, a proportion of tickets will be available on a ‘Pay What You Decide’ basis, with some reserved for Knowsley residents.

Funding for the project came from Knowsley Council (£12.2m), Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (£10.5m), the Treasury via Arts Council England (£5m), plus £3m from the Government’s Covid-19 Cultural Recovery Fund. Another £1m+ has come from private and philanthropic donations including the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The Foyle Foundation. A further £8m is being provided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in order to improve the local transport infrastructure.

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