Sadness as curtain set to fall on historic Liverpool theatre

The curtain will come down on Liverpool’s historic Epstein Theatre at the end of this month.

The Hanover Street landmark will close on Friday June 30..

Liverpool City Council owns the freehold of Hanover House – formerly known as Crane Buildings – and leases the entire building to a commercial property landlord and then sub-leases the Epstein Theatre back from them.

Due to unprecedented financial pressures on the council’s budget, it says the historic financial deal between the two parties is unsustainable, hence the council’s decision not to renew or extend the current lease, or to offer any further financial support to the operators of the theatre.

Epstein Entertainments was awarded the contract to operate the Epstein Theatre on behalf of the council in October 2018. In the management agreement, the council covered a proportion of the rent, service charge, utilities, and maintenance work up to this date.

Since the 1960’s the council has always financially supported and subsidised the theatre. Currently this figure is in excess of £100,000 per year.

Further requests for Liverpool City Council’s support of £50,000 per year, for the next five years to save the venue have been unsuccessful. The final decision about this request was given on Friday, June 2.

Due to the legalities and lengthy discussions with Liverpool City Council to reach an acceptable management agreement for both parties, and the subsequent COVID pandemic closure of the theatre, Epstein Entertainments did not occupy the theatre until October 2021.

The venue re-opened to the public with a successful pantomime in December 2021, and has since continued to run a popular programme of events to the present day.

The Grade II-listed 380-seat theatre is a Liverpool historical cultural institution based within the listed Hanover House. It has been open as a performance space since 1913. In 2011 the theatre reopened as the Epstein Theatre, named after Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles following a £1.2m refurbishment.

Epstein Entertainments Limited is solvent and has been trading profitably during its period but has come to the end of its management agreement with Liverpool City Council and, following lengthy negotiations directly with the landlord, who requires a minimum of a five-year lease, Epstein Entertainments Ltd has unfortunately been unable to reach a workable agreement on the costs of the rent and service charge, and with the added utility bills plus essential theatre maintenance and upgrades, the running costs and overheads are unworkable for a venue of this size, without financial support.

Epstein Entertainments Limited said it has continually searched for funding opportunities including advice from Arts Council England and investigated alternative company structures. All revenue streams have been maximised and all possible efficiencies have been made.

All productions up until June 30, will go ahead as planned. For all productions after June 30, Epstein Entertainments Ltd will be aiming to transfer performances to other Liverpool City Region venues.

Ticket holders for cancelled performances will receive an automatic refund.

Artistic and operations director, Chantelle Nolan, said: “I am truly heartbroken that Epstein Entertainments are having to vacate the beautiful Epstein Theatre in Liverpool city centre. Since opening the theatre to the public in December 2021 we have worked tirelessly to make the business a success, but, unfortunately, with the costs we are now facing, it’s become an impossible task.

Epstein Theatre – pic: David Munn

“The work required to maintain the theatre to HSE standards and comply with legal requirements have become a severe drain on the company’s finances. Unfortunately, without Liverpool City Council’s support, it is impossible to make it a financial success. We hope the people of Liverpool appreciate that we have done everything within our power to keep the venue open.”

Artistic and communications directorm Bill Elmsm said: “This closure is a huge loss for the Liverpool City Region, we are inundated with daily requests from programmers and theatre companies wanting to use the venue. Since we took over, we have worked tirelessly and turned the venue around, from coming out of a pandemic, to playing to over 80% capacity houses but, it’s sadly just not enough.

“The costs to cover the rent, rates, service charges, utility bills, general maintenance, and essential constant upgrades required in the old historic building makes the proposed offer untenable.

“It’s heart-breaking that the theatre is forced to close when there is such positive signs of growth and stability. If it wasn’t for the three-year delay from winning the tender to signing the contract, then I am certain we wouldn’t be in this dreadful position right now.”

He added: “It’s a unique venue, an historic gem and a venue that fills a huge gap in the current Liverpool theatre landscape as a mid-scale receiving house. We have fought and thought of everything we can to keep the theatre open, right up to the very last minute, but without financial support, the costs are simply unworkable for us, or for any other operator, to work with.”

In the 18 months since the Epstein Theatre reopened, it has played host to almost 150 productions including national award-nominated pantomimes and has welcomed 76,000 audience members through its doors. The theatre has created 40 jobs, both front of house and behind the scenes, helping to bring alive a wide-ranging programme of high quality live music, comedy, drama, dance, and family entertainment.

Epstein Entertainments Ltd said it will continue to consider solutions and explore any further avenues to reopen and preserve this unique and listed theatre.