ALL the world’s a stage and the global appeal of William Shakespeare continues to reach beyond its traditional roots in Stratford-upon-Avon and London with work about to start on a £30 million theatre dedicated to Shakespeare in Prescot, Lancashire.
The concept might raise the odd question or curious look about the Bard’s connection with a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Knowsley eight miles east of Liverpool home of the Fab Four back in the day, but as far as the people of Prescot are concerned it’s full steam ahead for the 350 seat Shakespeare North Playhouse which opens in 2022.
Time hasn’t stood still for a town with a population of 14,000 once famous for its clock and watch making, in fact Prescot has every right to reclaim its theatrical heritage as it was home to the Prescot Playhouse – a Shakespearean theatre in the 1590s. In fact it may have been the only place in England outside London to have an indoor playhouse in Elizabethan times.
The interior of the new theatre will of Jacobean design based on Inigo Jones’ Cockpit-at-Court, built in 1629.
Those steering this visionary project, both at the Shakespeare North Playhouse and Knowsley Council, want it to become part of a Bard’s Triangle encompassing London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Prescot.
The link is not as tenuous as first appears, as Dr Paul Edmondson, head of research at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust explains: “It is no surprise to me that this exciting project is taking place. It just demonstrates even more that Shakespeare speaks to us in our own times and his language is global. I saw a performance of Antony and Cleopatra at The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 2010 which featured Janet Suzman and Kim Cattrall and it was fantastic and to have more Shakespeare in Prescot will be great. I say bravo to the Shakespeare North Playhouse.”
Dr Edmondson added that while it can’t be defined if Shakespeare visited Merseyside, travelling between key towns and cities was not unheard of even though it might take two or three days to complete a journey. Interestingly, Stratford was in a strategic position at this time and did attract people from both north and south England.
However, there is another important angle which may connect Shakespeare to Prescot and Knowsley. Lord Strange, under the patronage of Ferdinando Stanley (who became the fifth Earl of Derby and whose family seat is Knowsley Hall), later formed part of Shakespeare’s own company at the Globe. He also performed in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I at The Rose Theatre in London in 1592.
Around the world there are also parallels for recreating Shakespeare and even his home town Stratford. Work is underway near the Chinese city of Fuzhou where a miniature Stratford visitor attraction is being built complete with replicas of Shakespeare Birthplace, Holy Trinity Church and Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Shakespeare North Playhouse is expected to generate over 100,000 new visitors to the area each year and boost the regional economy by £13 million and create new jobs.
There are spin offs to be had too with the creation of a Shakespeare-themed hotel, a micro-pub called The Bard, which opened in February, and various other food and drink outlets.
As Shakespeare was a learned man, he would have been proud to discover that his legacy lives on in education and last October students in Knowsley took part in the Shakespeare Schools Festival along with thousands other students across the country.
Progress on the playhouse continues to gain momentum and last month, specially invited guests and VIPS attended a reception at Knowsley Hall home to the current Lord and Lady Derby.
Present at the reception was Lady Anne Dodd, wife of the late Liverpool legendary entertainer Sir Ken Dodd whose charitable foundation has made an initial donation of £250,000 to the creation of a performance garden at the theatre, of which her husband was a patron.
Current patrons include Dame Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave CBE, Dame Helen Mirren, Lord Derby, Kim Catrall, Sir Paul McCartney, David Calder, Sir Patrick Stewart, Lord David Alton, Rudolph Walker CBE, David Thacker, Phil Redmond CBE, Cherie Blair CBE, Alison Steadman OBE, Jimmy McGovern, Patrick Spottiswoode, Clive Owen, Trudie Styler, Christine Tremarco and Michael Brown CBE.
The opening of the Shakespeare North Playhouse is timed to coincide with Knowsley’s role in Liverpool City Region Borough of Culture in 2022.
Cllr Graham Morgan, leader of Knowsley Council was quoted in the August edition of the council’s Knowlsey News as follows:
“We’ve had a really busy period of substantial and essential enabling works on the site of the Playhouse in Prescot. The enabling work is critical as it gave us the opportunity to get an early start on-site in advance of the award of the main construction contract for this amazing new theatre, cultural and education facility to really come to life.”