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Shakespeare North Playhouse stage is set

Work has started on the site of the new £24million Shakespeare North Playhouse at Prescot.

Ground works are being carried out while the bespoke wooden frame of the 350-seat 'theatre-in-the-round' is being created by skilled craftsmen at Berkshire-based McCurdy and Co, the company which also built the Globe, and will be transported to the site once work begins in earnest next spring.

An update on the ambitious project was presented at a special event at Knowsley Hall, hosted by the Earl and Countess of Derby and attended by guests including historian David Starkey and Liverpool-born stage and screen actor Josh Bolt.

The Shakespeare North Playhouse, which will stand close to where the Prescot Playhouse stood 400 years ago, is due to open its doors in summer 2022 as part of Knowsley's year as Borough of Culture.

Plans for the inaugural season of plays are still being finalised, but it's understood the opening production is likely to be A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Earls of Derby were patrons of Shakespeare, who is believed to have written A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 6th Earl’s wedding in 1595.

And Ferdinando Stanley, briefly the 5th Earl, was behind Lord Strange’s Men, a band of players who were the first to perform the Bard’s plays at the Rose Theatre, and later formed part of Shakespeare’s own troupe at the Globe.

The opening of the new Playhouse will complete what the team behind the project calls the UK’s Shakespearean triangle - along with London and Stratford-upon-Avon - and they hope will become a nationally and internationally significant cultural and educational asset.

An artist's impression of the Shakespeare North Playhouse at Prescot

Alongside the new auditorium, modelled on the 17th Century 'cockpit-at-court', the new Playhouse complex - which will stand in the newly-named Prospero Place - will also include an outdoor performance garden, exhibition and visitor centre and educational facilities.

Sir Ken Dodd was a patron of the Playhouse before his death, and Anne, Lady Dodd has announced she plans to make a £250,000 donation from the Ken Dodd Charitable Trust Foundation towards the creation of the performance garden.

Ian Tabbron, interim chief executive of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, said: "Harnessing the inexhaustible inspiration of Shakespeare, our vision is for a unique theatre with a broad ranging artistic and educational programme.

"Alongside signature Shakespearean performances will sit contemporary productions, music, comedy, dance and many participatory opportunities for young people and their families.

"It's a highly inclusive vision and one that we intend will ensure the long term success and sustainability of a nationally significant cultural asset.”

Anne, Lady Dodd with Knowsley Council leader Graham Morgan

One plan is for all 20,000 young people in Knowsley to get the chance to appear on stage at the venue in its opening year.

Actor Josh Bolt, who grew up locally, took time out from filming a new four-part series of Last Tango in Halifax to attend the Knowsley Hall event. He said: "So much stuff happens in London - the theatres are there, all the casting directors and producers are there. From the age of 15 I spent most of my time on a train to and from London.

"So I think for the younger generation, I think this is just going to be so exciting because it's on their doorstep - it's going to be great for them. But also for me and my generation. There are so many northern actors and it would be lovely for us all do to something in Prescot.

"I'd love to do theatre again, and I'd love to do something up here.

"And for Shakespeare especially, for the North West, for us, it just feels a bit more accessible."

Josh Bolt at Knowsley Hall

The 25-year-old, who now shares his time between London and Los Angeles, started his acting career playing Big John in Much Ado About Nothing at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2007.

And he admits he'd love to play a leading Shakespearean role - Richard II - at the new theatre.

"I think because my onscreen grandad has done it so well, Sir Derek of Jacobi, and I'd love to try and do that as well. It's a bit mad but I love it!"

The Shakespeare North Playhouse project is being funded by Knowsley Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and central government. The final figure for the multi-million pound scheme is expected to be revealed in November.

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