Revealed – first images inside Shakespeare North Playhouse

Shakespeare North Playhouse

The interior of the new Shakespeare North Playhouse has been revealed for the first time with the release of new images.

The site, in Prescot, near Liverpool, is set to open next month and is home to the only 17th-century style, timber-built ‘Cockpit’ theatre outside London, able to seat 450 spectators.

Built during the pandemic, thanks to public funds and donations, the venue is anticipated to attract more than 140,000 visitors a year to the region. Lead architect for the project is Helm Architecture, and Austin-Smith: Lord as support architect.

Shakespeare North Playhouse will open its doors to the public with a weekend of free festivities from July 15-17, forming a key part of Knowsley’s Borough of Culture celebrations.

Housed inside this modern, energy-efficient building, the venue is also home to a fully accessible outdoor performance garden funded by the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, exhibition gallery, 60-seater studio theatre, learning centre, events spaces, and a café and bar with outdoor piazza.

Melanie Lewis, chief executive of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, said: “Revealing the building is wonderful. It’s a culmination of more than a decade of work by so many people, and yet in many ways this is just the start.

“Experiencing the building again but through the senses of our audience and our community will be a joy. I’m feeling their excitement and curiosity. It’s a privilege.”

She added: “The entire building is a work of art in its own right, but what I am most excited about is how people will use it – how they will be welcomed and feel safe, how they will be inspired by Shakespeare, the physical space, and the people. Most importantly, however, I am eager to see how people will explore their creativity here, be they seasoned performers, upcoming artists, or people exploring theatre for the first time. This space belongs to the people and it’s time to welcome them in.”

Cllr Graham Morgan, leader of Knowsley Council, the major investment partner in the project, said: “I couldn’t be more excited or prouder to be able to share these images and for people to get their first glimpse inside this remarkable building.

“Delivering a world class cultural venue for the people of Knowsley has been a long held dream of the council and to see the Shakespeare North Playhouse almost ready to open its doors is a very special thing.”

Shakespeare North Playhouse is inspired by Prescot’s historic connections to William Shakespeare and a love of storytelling.

In the 1590s, a theatre stood in the town and hosted performances made possible by the Earl of Derby, resident at Knowsley Hall. It is thought that it was the only purpose-built indoor playhouse outside London, and players brought with them new shows from a certain popular playwright of the day … William Shakespeare.

Highlights of the venue’s opening season include a modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, and ‘Evenings with’ St Helens comedian Johnny Vegas, and acclaimed Liverpool playwright, Jimmy McGovern.

The venue will also host a programme of regular family and community activities and events during the opening season.

Funding for the project came from Knowsley Council (£12.2m), Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (£10.5m), the Treasury via Arts Council England (£5m), plus £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, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The Foyle Foundation. A further £8m is being provided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to improve the local transport infrastructure.

Keir was the main contractor on the site.