After more than ten years in the planning, two years of construction work and a global pandemic to contend with, the long-held dream of creating a Shakespearean theatre in the heart of Prescot has taken a step closer to being realised.
On Friday 27 May, the main contractor for the project, Kier Construction, Knowsley Council and Shakespeare North Playhouse formally marked the end of building work on site heralding the start of a new era for the stunning venue and for the town of Prescot.
A fit-out period will now take place up to July when the Playhouse opens its doors to the public.
Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council commented: “It is a really special milestone today and one that will forever stay in my memory as a very proud and important moment for Knowsley.
“We have held a strong belief in our vision to create a world class venue in Knowsley and despite challenges such as the pandemic, Knowsley Council has remained 100% committed to this project and doing whatever we can to make this dream a reality for our communities. The impact the Playhouse is set to have is remarkable and the ‘promise’ of Shakespeare North Playhouse has already attracted significant new funding and new businesses into Prescot. This day marks the end of the construction of Shakespeare North Playhouse and the final period of fit out before opening to the public, and it really does feel very special.
“I want to thank everyone who has made this happen, including of course Kier Construction, the whole of the Design Team led by Austin-Smith: Lord and the other businesses and contractors who have helped to make Shakespeare North Playhouse so special. I also want to thank the many Council Officers who have supported this project from day one – giving their time and expertise, and Shakespeare North Trust, the new operators of Shakespeare North Playhouse, who have played a key role as we reached this day of handover. Now I cannot wait for the doors to open and for people to be able to enjoy the many opportunities at their Shakespeare North Playhouse.”
Melanie Lewis, Chief Executive at Shakespeare North Playhouse, commented: “It is so exciting to finally reach this landmark stage in the project, and what started out as a unique and ambitious idea now seems all very, very real. The official public opening is literally just around the corner, and we cannot wait to finally be able to open our doors and let the Prescot community experience this wonderful and magical space. As I’ve have always said, this place is theirs to own!
“Thank you to Kier Construction, Knowsley Council, the design team led by Austin-Smith: Lord and all the other contractors who have helped us reach this milestone. They really have created something very special that the people of Prescot can be proud of.”
Sean Fenner, regional director at Kier Construction North & Scotland, commented: “Shakespeare North Playhouse is a unique project that we know means so much to the people of Prescot and wider community. Working alongside our local supply chain partners, we have utilised our technical skill as well as trialled sustainable innovations to deliver a modern, accessible and energy efficient building.
“Working collaboratively with Knowsley Council, we are proud to have played our part in delivering this project which will have such a strong cultural impact regionally and indeed nationally. Our aim has also been to leave a lasting legacy within the local community and over the past two years, we’ve held 25 community engagement events, engaged with over 12,500 young people, created 23 jobs and provided 20 apprenticeships.”
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, which invested £10.5m into Shakespeare North Playhouse said: “This is a really exciting day for our area, as we add yet another world class attraction. The Liverpool City Region is the UK’s cultural capital – home to a thriving arts and creative scene that has been entertaining the masses for decades, and where some of our country’s greatest performers perfected their trade.
“The Shakespeare Playhouse will be the jewel in that crown – a spectacular statement of the enormous cultural contribution that our region has gifted to the world. The theatre promises to be in incredible new asset – not only for Knowsley – but for the entire North West, attracting more jobs, more investment, and offering a brilliant resource for the local communities.
“It is fitting that it should open during Knowsley’s year as Borough of Culture and is a vitally important part of the wider renaissance we’re seeing in Prescot. I’m hopeful it will be a catalyst for even more regeneration.
“I can’t wait to see it filled with people. Whether it is going to be (or not to be) a massive success is not the question. We will ensure that all’s well that ends well!”
Shakespeare North Playhouse is set to open its doors with a weekend of festivities for everyone to enjoy on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 July. On the evening of Friday 15 July, the people of Prescot will create a glorious ceremony, All The Joy That You Can Wish, to celebrate the opening. This is a significant part of Knowsley’s celebrations for its year as Liverpool City Region Borough of Culture.
Shakespeare North Playhouse is inspired by Prescot’s historic connections to William Shakespeare and a love of storytelling. In addition to providing a world class attraction, its mission is to become an exciting new destination that the Prescot community can proudly call their own.
The project idea and design by Dr Nicholas Helm and Professor Richard Wilson is based on the 17th-century ‘cockpit-in-court’ design of Inigo Jones and is the only traditional timber framed theatre of its kind outside London.
Shakespeare North Playhouse will also boast an inclusive education programme, exhibition gallery, Studio, café, shop, and additional performance spaces including the outdoor Ken Dodd performance garden. The spectacular the new venue is anticipated to attract more than 140,000 visitors a year to the region.
The opening programme includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, ‘Evenings with’ Johnny Vegas, and Jimmy McGovern and performances of the wining plays from the Young Persons Playwriting competition with BBC’s The One Show – As You Write It. The Borough of Culture ‘Serious Nonsense Festival’ will also feature in Shakespeare North Playhouse and outdoor Piazza.
Construction of Shakespeare North Playhouse started early 2020 and was built entirely during the Covid-19 pandemic. The project has received funding of £12.2m from Knowsley Council, £10.5m from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, £5m from the Treasury via Arts Council England, and £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 which generously supported the funding of the performance garden, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The Foyle Foundation. A further £8m has been provided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to improve the local transport infrastructure.