Theatre boss claims city ‘poorer culturally’ without Epstein

The boss of a now-closed historical theatre said Liverpool is now a “poorer cultural city” without it as parties clashed over its future.

For what could be the final time, the curtain came down on the Epstein Theatre on June 30 after Liverpool Council ended its support for the grade II listed venue. Since 1913, the 380-seat theatre based within Hanover House has hosted thousands of productions under various guises.

Anthony Proctor, manager of the Epstein, addressed members of the city council last night in an impassioned speech urging them to reverse their decision to end support for the theatre.

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.

Speaking at Liverpool Town Hall on Wednesday, Mr Proctor said he and the staff were “fighting so hard” for the venue and since the theatre had closed Liverpool was now a “poorer cultural city.” He added: “We need the Epstein as part of our theatrical ecology.”

Liberal Democrat culture spokesperson, Cllr Laurence Sidorczuk, moving a motion calling on the council to help reopen the Epstein said it was disappointing to see the theatre close within the month of the success of Liverpool staging Eurovision.

Cllr Tom Crone, leader of the Green Party group, said it was “churlish” of the council to cite the company structure around the theatre as reasons for its support being ended by the Cunard administration.

Members of the Liberal Democrats and Labour clashed over the future of the theatre. Opposition leader Cllr Carl Cashman said the closure of the Epstein was about opportunities for young working-class actors to practise their craft in the city and there were limited locations in the city centre to do so. 

Hitting back, Cllr Harry Doyle, cabinet member for health, wellbeing and culture, accused the Lib Dems of seeking to make political points, rather than supporting the theatre. He added how there had been some “constructive conversations” with the theatre and said: “I don’t believe it’s the end for the Epstein.”

The row spilled out onto social media after the meeting, with Cllr Cashman accusing the cabinet member of lying and Cllr Doyle claiming the opposition had voted against saving the theatre later on.

Council leader Liam Robinson said the city wasn’t “closing the door” on the theatre and wanted to find a way for it to continue “on a sustainable footing for the long term.”

Image: Epstein Theatre manager, Anthony Proctor

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