Shakespeare North Playhouse prepares for opening season
Final preparations are being made for the opening of the new Shakespeare North Playhouse at Prescot.
First images of the inside of the stunning Cockpit theatre have now been revealed.
The multi-million pound venue also boasts 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.
It is due to open its doors over the weekend of July 16-17, preceded by a special parade and opening ceremony – All The Joy That You Can Wish - at 6pm on Friday, July 15 created by acclaimed theatre company Slung Low.
Chief executive Melanie Lewis says: “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.
“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’m 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.”
The Cockpit theatre, built by historic building specialists McCurdy and Co and incorporating 60 tons of British oak, can be used in two different configurations – as a 320-capacity ‘Cockpit’ space or, with the stage removed, as a 450-seater theatre-in-the-round.
The ground floor Studio space can be utilised in any seating configuration and also as a ‘black box’ space, while the outdoor Ken Dodd Performance Garden which seats 120 will be programmed until the end of September.
At the heart of the first-floor learning space is an oak tree, a species often mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Sculptures of a lark and a raven by metal sculptor Brian Fell are yet to be added. Other Fell sculptures can be seen throughout the building and Prescot more widely.
Meanwhile a display of historic glazed money boxes in the foyer has been created as part of a complementary heritage project. Actors collected their wages in similar boxes which were then take to a ‘box office’ to smash to retrieve the coins.
Playhouse creative director Laura Collier, who has spent many months talking to the region’s artists and creatives, says it’s important the venue is “vigorously experimented with by artists and audiences.”
She adds: “We want to sustain a relationship with artists but equally we’re also in a constant state of seeking new voices and welcoming new artists as well.
“What opportunities can we provide for people to express themselves?”
Senior producer Siobhan Noble says: “We really want to make it a welcoming space. The point of the opening weekend is to engage our neighbours and give them time to explore the venue at their own pace.
“The message is ‘It’s Yours’. I can’t wait for it to open and people to come through.”
Shakespeare North Playhouse opens on Friday, July 16 with a ceremony at 6pm.
Photo top: Andrew Brooks