Merseyside’s new Shakespeare Theater opens celebrating builders and footballers | Theater

A new Shakespearean theater is due to open in Merseyside this summer with a ceremony that celebrates “local heroes”, including the builders who built it.

The £30 million North Shakespeare Theater in Prescot, Knowsley, has a 470-seat theatre, the Cockpit, inspired by the design of the cockpit in Inigo Jones’ yard in 17th century London. The site also has an outdoor performance garden, funded by Liverpudlian comedian Ken Dodd’s charitable foundation, and a small theater studio, as well as exhibition and teaching facilities.

A weekend of free activities will begin on July 15 with an event created with the Slung Low theater company titled All the Joy That You Can Wish, which will feature players from the local Prescot Cables football team belonging to supporters as well as the builders of the Kier group who put the finishing touches on the place. Spectators will be invited to congregate at the new Prospero Place outside the theater and take part in a ceremony to ‘summon the muses’ in Knowsley, which is also the Liverpool City area District of Culture for 2022. The weekend continues with performances by Prescot-born playwright and actor Ashleigh Nugent.

Building the cockpit…inside the Shakespeare North Playhouse which will open July 15th. Photography: Beccy Lane PositiveImage Photography

Local heroes will also appear on the Cockpit Stage, with screenwriter Jimmy McGovern and comedian Johnny Vegas performing solo shows later in the month. Vegas said the new theater was both beautiful and intimate: “It doesn’t feel like there’s a cheap seat in the house and it’s beautiful. You walk in there and you feel like we’ve brought the culture back. Culture, art, creativity, theatre, it’s all for all of us and that’s what this space does, it reminds us of. The site is expected to attract 140,000 visitors a year and Vegas said it would be “monumental” for the region. Max Steinberg, chairman of the Shakespeare North Trust, told the Guardian last summer that bars and restaurants, many of them Shakespeare-themed, were already popping up nearby. “It’s not Field of Dreams, just build it and they will come,” Steinberg said. “We are building and they have already come.”

In September, the theater house will stage the works of three young winners of a national playwriting competition. He will then mount his first Shakespearian production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, co-produced with Newcastle’s Northern Stage and the Not Too Tame company run by Jimmy Fairhurst, born in Warrington, rugby player turned actor. This take on Shakespeare’s comedy-fantasy explores class struggle and draws inspiration from the boisterous energy of teenagers at a party. The play also has a local connection: it is claimed to have been written for the wedding of William Stanley, sixth Earl of Derby (whose family seat is Knowsley Hall), and Elizabeth de Vere.

Teenagers in the evening… A Midsummer Night's Dream will be Shakespeare's first production at the new theatre.
Teenagers in the evening… A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be Shakespeare’s first production at the new theater

Laura Collier, the site’s creative director, said the season opener was “a statement of intent in terms of our ambition for the site and our engagement with the local community and audiences in the years to come”. Shakespeare North Playhouse was built during the pandemic with public funds and donations, including £12.2m from Knowsley Council, £10.5m from the Combined Authority for the City of Liverpool and £3million from the government’s Covid-19 Culture Recovery Fund.

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