The Shakespeare North Playhouse is an iconic new theatre, education, outdoor performance garden and an exhibition space to be built on the current Mill Street car park in Prescot. Its front doors will open onto the newly named ‘Prospero Place’, L34 3AB.
It will be a major visitor attraction, providing a distinctive asset for the Liverpool City Region, and a significant regenerative and place shaping opportunity, rebranding Prescot as a destination performance and market town.
Shakespeare North Playhouse has come about through robust academic research into the town’s past and takes us back over 400 years. Today’s ambitious project is completely of this place –it has a fascinating story that is unique to the town.
The following questions and answers have been compiled but if you have an enquiry not covered here, please email ShakespeareNorthEnquiries@knowsley.gov.uk
Why is the council supporting the project?
Knowsley Council is determined to deliver this major new playhouse development for the direct regeneration benefits it will bring to Prescot, Knowsley and the Liverpool City Region. The impacts expected reflect the transformational effects of an exemplary programme for inclusive growth built around a truly global brand.
Shakespeare North Playhouse will be a distinctive, high quality addition to the visitor offer of the region, generating over 100,000 new visitors to the area each year from across the UK and internationally. It is estimated that the project will increase the value of goods and services produced in the city region by £13 million during construction and by £5.3 million each year following opening.
Other significant benefits include: new high quality jobs; strong growth in spending within the local economy; much increased footfall in Prescot town centre; new business investment in places to stay and eat and drink; a broad educational offer; attractive volunteering opportunities and improved access to world class cultural activity for young people and local communities.
How many jobs will be created?
The Playhouse is expected to create 20 permanent full time equivalent, high quality jobs. Across the region, the project will create some 175 net additional full time equivalent jobs. During the building period, in the region of 185 temporary construction jobs will be created.
Why is it being built in Prescot?
Prescot has a unique history and heritage of international, national, regional and local interest and importance. The only place in England (outside of London) to have an indoor playhouse, in Elizabethan times, was Prescot!
Academic researchers have looked into this over a number of years and uncovered some fascinating facts about Prescot and its importance to the world of English theatre at a key point in the development of the art form. This research has also told us a lot about everyday life in Elizabethan times.
Shakespeare North Playhouse will celebrate the Elizabethan heritage of Knowsley. The support and patronage of the Earls of Derby at Knowsley Hall played a notable part in the development of English drama. Several of Lord Strange’s Men, under the patronage of Ferdinando Stanley (who became the fifth Earl of Derby), later formed part of Shakespeare’s own company at the Globe. So, Strange’s Men, who had performed at their home base in Knowsley, played a significant role in the development of Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright. The Prescot and Knowsley story is the prequel to the story of Shakespeare in London.
So the Shakespeare connections, the significance of theatre patrons at Knowsley Hall and the site of the only indoor Elizabethan Playhouse outside of London makes Prescot the perfect place to build this iconic playhouse.
Where will it be built?
The location of the Shakespeare North Playhouse has been carefully considered. Its location, on the site of the current Mill Street car park and near to the former museum (now called Cockpit House and part of the campus for Shakespeare North), is close to the site of the original Elizabethan Playhouse and will be the catalyst for a range of refurbishments and renewals in the historic heart of Prescot.
Will anything be demolished or re-located to make way for the Playhouse?
No buildings will be demolished to make way for the Playhouse.
There will be changes to the bus station to ensure this will best meet the needs of all residents and visitors.
What will the inside of the theatre look like?
The main theatre interior will follow an authentic Jacobean design, based on Inigo Jones’ Cockpit-at-Court, built in 1629. Inigo Jones was the greatest English theatre designer of his day. The 346 seat auditorium will be similar to this sketch of the original theatre.
Why does the outside of the Playhouse look so modern?
While it is important to remain true to the Jacobean design for the auditorium, this iconic structure must be fully accessible and sustainable in line with contemporary standards. The modern building will, in effect, ‘wrap around’ the auditorium and ensure the whole facility:
- meets the needs of all potential users;
- complies with current building regulations; and
- is energy efficient.
The interior will also be provided with padded seating and air cooling unlike the 17th century original!
In essence, the Jacobean theatre will be the ‘jewel’ in the centre.
What facilities will there be in the building?
This venue is intelligently designed to be highly flexible and suitable for many different uses. At its heart will be the reproduction Jacobean theatre which will have a number of formats (end-on, thrust and in-the-round). The education facilities, studio theatre, café/bar and outdoor spaces will enable a range of education and community activities to take place – including performance and training. Importantly, there will be facilities for students working towards higher level qualifications and the exhibition area will have regularly updated displays and interactive activities with many exhibits and artefacts from the best collections in England including that of the Earl of Derby.
The wonderful garden will provide a flexible outdoor space for multiple uses, including performance.
When will building work start and the Theatre open?
Kier Construction has been appointed to build the Shakespeare North Playhouse. Preparatory work has started on site and major works will start in early spring 2019. Knowsley Council is working with Kier Construction to finalise the construction programme to complete the new Playhouse in late 2020.
Will there be disruption in the town centre during construction?
Inevitably with regeneration on this scale and the significant number of development projects happening around Prescot (Market Place, Townscape Heritage Initiative and Shakespeare North Playhouse) there will be some time limited changes to normal access and services. However, Knowsley Council is working very closely with all developers, residents and the business community to minimise the impact of these on the town centre life.
What courses will be available?
There are plans to offer opportunities to members of the community from early-childhood to older years for learning, personal development, gaining skills, volunteering and acquiring qualifications. At the highest, formal level, it is being proposed that Masters Degree programmes, for up to a total of 40 students, will be offered.
What types of performance will it offer?
The Playhouse will offer a year round programme of co-produced theatre, visiting productions, student and community theatre and other entertainments including music, spoken word, dance and streamed performance.
Will the building be available for community use?
The main theatre space will, when possible, be made available for community and student use. There is also a studio space within the building which will be suitable for schools and community use, conferences and other events either on a stand-alone basis, or in conjunction with the main auditorium (for larger festivals etc.) The other spaces will provide more opportunities for community engagement, specifically the Exhibition and Lifelong Learning Centre which will look for content and activities provided or inspired by local people.
Where will visitors park?
There is a range of existing short and long stay car parks around the town centre for visitors to use and Prescot has great public transport links. £7.5 million of funding from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has been allocated for major upgrades to Prescot train station and transport connections in the town.
How has the Theatre been funded?
Knowsley Council has contributed £6m, National Government has contributed £5m and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has contributed £6.5m. Additional funding will be addressed by targeted philanthropic appeals, trust and foundation bids, fundraising and further grants applications which the Shakespeare North Trust are leading on. The Trust has established a fundraising charity called Shakespeare North Playhouse Trust (Registered Charity Number 1172498).
What investment are we already seeing in advance of the construction of the Theatre?
Before construction even begins, the Playhouse is already having a really positive effect in Prescot town centre. A number of new food and drink venues have opened including micropub The Bard and restaurants Pinion, The Watch Factory Bistro, Down in Albion and Kingsmen street food. And the Spanish inspired Urbano Chiringuito will be open soon. There is also a new AirB&B property in Atherton Street, Upstairs at Albion, where visitors to the area can stay.
Construction of a Shakespearean themed boutique hotel opposite Prescot railway station will start soon and work is already underway on the transformation of Market Place, to create the new MATECreative Bistro and Piazza.
Additional investment in Prescot includes £3.2 million of Heritage Lottery funding secured for the Prescot Townscape Heritage initiative which is transforming the buildings and streetscene in the town centre.
Work has already started on improvements to Prescot train station and pedestrian links to town centre and playhouse, following £7.5 million funding from Liverpool city Region Combined Authority.
Plus 1,500 new homes are being built in the area by a number of national house builders.
I would like to support the Playhouse – how do I become a Friend of Shakespeare North?
You can register to become a Friend of Shakespeare North and receive project updates by contacting Shakespeare North Trust via their website.