• Shakespeare North Trust, Prescot, Knowsley, Knowsley Council

Plans for Shakespeare North submitted

A planned 350-seat Shakespeare theatre, which will be the first in the UK with education at its core, has moved a step closer to reality with a planning application being submitted.

The Shakespeare North Playhouse aims to make Prescot a place where actors, writers, students and young people will be able to study and practice the plays of the Bard.

Over 400 years ago, Prescot was home to the first indoor Elizabethan theatre outside London and Knowsley aims to build on the area’s theatrical heritage.

The playhouse will be the site of the only actor training programme in Shakespearean Performance Practice in the UK with plans for the erection of a four storey building and multi-use space with facilities for teaching, professional and community performances and film screenings.

The aim of the completed theatre culturally, will be to ‘make a triangle for the Shakespeare pilgrim, linking Prescot to Stratford and Bankside in London’, states the submitted application.

Discussing education as a key cornerstone of the plans, the application submitted to the council highlights London’s Globe as an example to follow, saying: “The Globe Theatre and Globe Education in London is the primary model that demonstrates how theatre, and education related to it, work in a local and international visitor context, and the social benefits and regenerative effect of such a mix of uses.

“As well as the primary use as a University College, education facilities will be used for local drama, dance and music workshops outside the mainstream timetable. The facilities will therefore be used intensively to provide a valuable outreach asset for the wider community.

“The active development of practical theatre skills training will be encouraged through apprenticeships in stage management and support skills, these will include historic and current practice skills.”

Added to the main theatre, the plans include a multi-space of 140 seats, a coffee shop, bar and a book shop all housed within the building.

The theatre’s production season will run annually from October and will include other performances by the local community, amateur dramatic societies, schools, and touring companies.

To further the educational core of the plans, the playhouse will host a Summer Play Festival and a Shakespeare in Schools Festival in November of each year.

On the design of the building, which will not overbear current buildings such as St. Mary’s church, the application says: “As we did this we looked for an architectural theme to bridge the gap between past and present: one that evoked a sense of theatre – and yet would be suited to an educational institution of public cultural significance.

“The design also had to work well with the historic auditorium space at its core and the Jacobean parish church of St. Mary across the open space to the South, fully respecting the quiet, delightful architecture.”

About Author: Nick Hughes