Shakespeare North Prescot Theatre Plans Revealed
A 350-seat Elizabethan theatre and study centre is in the pipeline for Prescot town centre.
The Shakespeare North Trust have revealed designs for the 3,000-square-metre complex, which they hope can be funded and built by 2019.
The charity, made up of academics, theatrical professionals and others from across the UK, have been working on the project for decade.
A National Lottery bid in 2007, supported by Knowsley Council, saw the project make a shortlist of nine out of about 400 nationwide, but it ultimately failed to secure the requested £20 million in funding.
Since then, trustees have scaled down the plans and have drawn up plans with a budget of £15 million. Several private investors and philanthropists have already pledged towards the total, and Shakespeare North is confident of raising the rest.
Shakespeare & Prescot
At a public presentation attended by about 200 local residents at Prescot Parish Church in early December, trustees described the 5th and 6th Earls of Derby as “the Simon Cowell and Cameron Mackintosh of their day.”
The 5th Earl, Ferdinando Stanley, sponsored his own theatre company, Lord Strange’s Men, who performed William Shakespeare’s plays at Knowsley Hall and beyond. Many of the playwright’s characters are named for the Stanley family.
In 1593, Prescot became home to the first and most important free-standing theatre outside London. Although no pictures of the Prescot Playhouse remain, it is believed to have been a cockpit theatre much like those designed by the famed Tudor architect Inigo Jones.
It stood at the east end of Eccleston Street, where the flat iron building stands now (pictured).
The venue’s chief importance was in bringing drama to ordinary people, making theatre accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.
Theatre & College
The new theatre itself will be based on Inigo Jones’s design for the Theatre Royal, built for James I in 1629 (pictured).
Surrounding the theatre will be classrooms, lecture theatres, studio space and other facilities. The complex will be used for English education – a boon to Knowsley’s struggling schools – and as a base for university students to learn about Elizabethan theatre, especially Shakespearean stage technique.
While the final look has yet to be confirmed, it is expected to blend contemporary and classical styles.
Sited by the former Prescot Museum, with the historic Church Street and the Jacobean church of St Mary’s in front of it, the venue will form a “cultural piazza” to attract visitors to the town.
Speaking at the consultation on 4 December, scholar Kathy Dacre said the project was the work of “people who are passionate about making sure that something special about Prescot is celebrated nationwide.”
As a destination for tourists, theatregoers and students, the Prescot complex will complete England’s “Shakespearean Triangle,” linking the historic Lancashire with the southern destinations of the Bard’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe theatre in London, where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.
The trust have worked closely with Knowsley Council on the plans, and will submit the full planning application in January 2015.
The Shakespeare North Trust have bought the Georgian townhouse formerly home to Prescot Museum, on the corner of High Street and Church Street.
They hope to have their headquarters up-and-running, along with an educational programme, in 2016, in time for the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
The new playhouse could be open as soon as 2019 if plans come together as expected.
The proposals have gained support from a host of well-known voices, with patrons including actors Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Patrick Stewart, Vanessa Redgrave and former Prescot Grammar School girl Sue Johnston.