‘Pay what you feel’ Shakespeare comes to Prescot

Date: 28/06/2022

The Shakespeare North Playhouse is busy. There are workmen finishing the road outside on Prospero Place; inside they’re putting the finishing touches to a £38m replica Shakespearean Theatre, in Prescot. Over 15 years in the making, it’s Shakespeare (and more) for the people — and it’s social engineering writ large: a delivery method for change and serious culture in one of the country’s most deprived towns.

The exterior of the theatre — all steel, glass and concrete — gives little hint of the wonders inside. Even the interior brings little drama, consisting largely of impeccably observed 21st-century idiom, albeit accentuated with nods to Shakespeare and Prescot. Shells from oysters — scarfed down by Elizabethan audiences back in the day — and replica “boxes” (hence “box office”) that were once used to collect entrance fees in Elizabethan theatres adorn the walls. And in a child-friendly space a real, live oak tree, which has fared somewhat better than the 60 tonnes worth of the stuff that makes up the centrepiece theatre.

The three-tiered cockpit itself is a jaw-dropping arrangement. It’s a replica of the Inigo Jones cockpit-in-court design in 17th-century London and has been assembled using traditional methods, slotted together without a screw or a nail. The Rubik’s Cube-like stage can therefore be assembled and reassembled like a jigsaw, allowing for “in the round” and “end on” arrangements, depending on the production. Candelabras, suspended from the ceiling, mean plays can be lit by candlelight.

Siobhan Noble, senior producer

“It feels like Christmas Eve,” says senior producer Siobhan Noble. “The next 16 days are going to go so quickly…” The building, she says, has a special feeling that has left community visitors overwhelmed. The three performance spaces — including an outdoor performance garden — will put on comedy, music and plays.

Many are rooted in the area too: the first outdoor production will be about a small boy who befriends a Liver Bird; a production centred around washhouse pioneer Kitty Wilkinson follows. In the cockpit will be Strange Tale, a time-travelling adventure that explores Shakespeare’s links to Prescot. But there’s a decent dose of The Bard’s own work too, with Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all scheduled for 2022.

Will the audiences come — and will the people of Prescot embrace the Playhouse? The theatre has gone all-out in engaging with the local community, to the extent that Prescotians will be invited to come along and “pay what they feel” (pending evidence of L34 or L35 postcodes). The opening weekend will see a parade of local organisations and a programme of celebratory events. “This place IS YOURS,” yells the website, “so TURN UP and OWN IT.” Outside, the road workers are busily tarmacking Prospero Place, to prepare Prescot for the opening of the Playhouse and the town’s starring role on the national stage.

Originally written for Liverpool Post. Click here to see original: