Liverpool’s historic and much-loved Epstein Theatre is set to close on Friday 30 June 2023.
Liverpool City Council own the freehold of Hanover House (formally known as Crane Buildings) in Hanover Street. They lease the entire building to a commercial property landlord and then sub-lease the Epstein Theatre back from them.
Due to unprecedented financial pressures on the council’s budget, the historic financial deal between the two parties is unsustainable hence the council’s decision not to renew or extend the current lease, or to offer any further financial support to the operators of the theatre.
Epstein Entertainments Ltd were awarded the contract to operate the Epstein Theatre on behalf of the Council in October 2018. In the management agreement, the council covered a proportion of the rent, service charge, utilities, and maintenance work up to this date. Since the 1960’s the council has always financially supported and subsidised the theatre, currently this figure is in excess of £100,000 per year.
Further requests for Liverpool City Council’s support of £50,000 per year, for the next five years to save the venue have been unsuccessful. The final decision about this request was given on Friday 2 June 2023.
Due to the legalities and lengthy discussions with Liverpool City Council to reach an acceptable management agreement for both parties, and the subsequent Covid pandemic closure of the theatre, Epstein Entertainments Ltd did not occupy the theatre until October 2021.
The venue re-opened to the public with a successful pantomime in December 2021 and has since continued to run a popular programme of events to the present day. The Grade II listed 380 seat theatre is a Liverpool historical cultural institution based within the listed Hanover House. It has been open as a performance space since 1913. In 2011 the theatre reopened as the Epstein Theatre, named after Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles following a £1.2m refurbishment.
Epstein Entertainments Limited is solvent and has been trading profitably during its period but has come to the end of its management agreement with Liverpool City Council and following lengthy negotiations directly with the landlord, who requires a minimum of a five-year lease, Epstein Entertainments Ltd have unfortunately been unable to reach a workable agreement on the costs of the rent and service charge, and with the added utility bills plus essential theatre maintenance and upgrades, the running costs and overheads are unworkable for a venue of this size, without financial support.
Epstein Entertainments Limited have continually searched for funding opportunities including advice from Arts Council England and investigated alternative company structures. All revenue streams have been maximised and all possible efficiencies have been made.
All productions up until Friday 30 June 2023 will go ahead as planned. For all productions after Friday 30 June, Epstein Entertainments Ltd will be aiming to transfer performances to other Liverpool City Region venues.
Ticket holders for cancelled performances will receive an automatic refund.
Artistic and Operations Director Chantelle Nolan said, “I am truly heartbroken that Epstein Entertainments are having to vacate the beautiful Epstein Theatre in Liverpool city centre. Since opening the theatre to the public in December 2021 we have worked tirelessly to make the business a success, but unfortunately with the costs we are now facing, it’s become an impossible task.
“The work required to maintain the theatre to HSE standards and comply with legal requirements have become a severe drain on the company’s finances. Unfortunately, without Liverpool City Council’s support, it impossible to make it a financial success. We hope the people of Liverpool appreciate that we have done everything within our power to keep the venue open. Thank you to the audiences for their continued support and I hope one day it will reopen again as a theatre space.”
Artistic and Communications Director Bill Elms commented, “This closure is a huge loss for the Liverpool City Region, we are inundated with daily requests from programmers and theatre companies wanting to use the venue. Since we took over, we have worked tirelessly and turned the venue around, from coming out of a pandemic, to playing to over 80% capacity houses but, it’s sadly just not enough.
“The costs to cover the rent, rates, service charges, utility bills, general maintenance, and essential constant upgrades required in the old historic building makes the proposed offer untenable.
“It’s heartbreaking that the theatre is forced to close when there is such positive signs of growth and stability. If it wasn’t for the three-year delay from winning the tender to signing the contract, then I am certain we wouldn’t be in this dreadful position right now.
“It’s a unique venue, an historic gem and a venue that fill’s a huge gap in the current Liverpool theatre landscape as a mid-scale receiving house. We have fought and thought of everything we can to keep the theatre open, right up to the very last minute, but without financial support, the costs are simply unworkable for us, or for any other operator, to work with.”
Company Director Jane Joseph added, “I have been producing shows for 30 years and The Epstein Theatre is the very place I produced my first pantomime Aladdin back in 1994. How sad is it that this ‘jewel in the crown of Liverpool’ is to close.
“Our company Epstein Entertainments Ltd took over the operational duties of the venue two years ago and despite steering through ‘the Covid fear’ after lockdown, have managed to gather back capacity audiences and clear the way for a successful future for this beautiful Edwardian theatre, which is a much-valued venue in Merseyside and for the surrounding areas.
“We have explored every avenue within Liverpool City Council and further afield to try and achieve funding to enable The Epstein Theatre to stay afloat.
“We have put our heart and souls into finding a solution, but without the much-needed support there is no future for The Epstein Theatre and we fear another nail in the coffin for live theatre in the City of Liverpool.”
Epstein Theatre Manager and programmer Anthony Proctor said, “I am truly heartbroken to share the news that our beloved Epstein Theatre is to close on 30 June. This theatre was the very first I ever attended as a child, and which led me to a life in the theatre. We have made great improvements to the running of the premises during our time leading this historic venue.
“With its closure, Liverpool becomes a less vibrant city. A large majority of the productions we present at the Epstein would not be able to find any other home in Liverpool city centre. Liverpool’s cultural offer will be less diverse as we will miss out on a variety of performances from the worlds of music, dance, comedy, variety, drama and family entertainment. There will be knock on effects too for the Liverpool economy, with travel, pre-show dining and post-show drinking all affected by the closure of the theatre. We are open to all offers of assistance from anyone who may be able to help us rescue this jewel in Liverpool’s theatrical crown. The theatre simply cannot be allowed to fade away.”
In the 18 months since the Epstein Theatre reopened, it’s played host to almost 150 productions including national award-nominated pantomimes and has welcomed 76,000 audience members through its doors. The theatre has created 40 jobs, both front of house and behind the scenes, helping to bring alive a wide-ranging programme of high-quality live music, comedy, drama, dance, and family entertainment.
Epstein Entertainments Ltd will continue to consider solutions and explore any further avenues to reopen and preserve this unique and listed theatre.
Liverpool City Council issued an FAQ:
Who owns the Epstein Theatre?
Liverpool City Council owns the building (Hanover House), in which the theatre is situated.
However, in 2011 the Council signed a 135-year lease on the building to a Mr David William Ramsey. His two sons have since taken over the role of landlord.
After receiving an initial £500,000 payment for this deal, the Council annually receives a peppercorn rent.
At the same time the Council also signed a 12-year sub-lease for the theatre, which expired on 30 March 2023.
Does the Council run the Theatre?
No. The Council entered into a management agreement for the theatre in July 2021 with a private operator, Epstein Entertainments Ltd. This deal was to run alongside the lease, and so expired on 30 March 2023.
Both the operator and the landlord were informed the Council would not be renewing its lease after that date, as the deal did not provide best value for the tax payer.
So why didn’t the Theatre close in March?
The Council granted a temporary three month extension, ending on 30 June 2023, to support Epstein Entertainments Ltd in its attempts to negotiate a new lease with the landlord.
This unfortunately did not materialise.
But the Council funds the Theatre?
Not quite. The Council contributes to maintenance and service charges. In total the cost amounts to more than £100,000 a year. The Council also invested £1.2m to restore the theatre in 2011.
Can’t the Council fund the theatre operator, like other cultural organisations?
Epstein Entertainments Ltd is a private commercial operator so is not eligible for cultural funding. It would be able to apply if it was a registered charity, or a Community Interest Company.
Why did the Council not agree to a new five year deal?
Epstein Entertainments Ltd requested that the Council guarantee a further five years of financial support at a cost of £50,000 per year, plus utility costs.
Utility costs amount to business rates, gas, water and electricity of which the costs of these have not yet been determined.
Total costs are forecast up to £500,00 in additional expenditure. This is money the Council cannot justify spending given the budget pressures it is facing to support other front line services.