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Shakespeare North Playhouse unveils opening programme

SHAKESPEARE North Playhouse in Prescot has unveiled its opening programme, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Johnny Vegas, and Jimmy McGovern among the season highlights.

The new £30m venue, home to the only 17th-century style timber theatre outside London and anticipated to attract 140,000 visitors a year, will open its doors to the public with a weekend of free festivities, from July 15-17.

Kicking off events from 6pm on Friday, July 15, ‘All the Joy That You Can Wish’ will be a ceremony of local heroes including the builders who helped construct the venue, and Prescot Cables FC players, who will gather outside the theatre for a ceremony to celebrate the opening, as well as the heritage and community.

Co-created with outdoor performance adventure specialists Slung Low, the ceremony will culminate at the new Prospero Place outside Shakespeare North Playhouse, with the audience invited to join in a theatrical opening ceremony to ‘summon the muses’.

Events continue with a weekend of Open Up’ performances on July 16 and 17, curated by Prescot-born playwright, actor and community champion Ashleigh Nugent, acclaimed Artist of the Year in the 2021 Liverpool City Region Culture & Creativity Awards.

A key part of Knowsley’s Borough of Culture celebrations, the opening weekend will see free performances of dance and drama alongside classical music, rap, DJs, crafts and tours from 10am on Saturday and noon on Sunday. There will also be a special ceremony from The Candle Project by Abigail Conway, with participants invited to help make a tapered candle and cast words about their hopes and dreams inside. This will be followed by a burning ceremony and community chorus on Sunday evening revealing remnant messages.

Open Up will be the first chance for the public to experience tours of 470-seat Cockpit Theatre. Inspired by Inigo Jones’ historic 1629 Cockpit-In-Court London masterpiece, it is the jewel in the crown of the new Playhouse.

Housed inside a modern new energy efficient building, the venue also offers a fully accessible outdoor performance garden, exhibition gallery, 60-seater studio theatre, learning centre, exhibition and events spaces, and a café and bar with outdoor piazza.

Season highlights

Among the highlights of the opening season will be Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a co-production with Northern Stage and Not Too Tame, running from September 22 to October 22. It is said that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream to mark the wedding of Knowsley’s 6th Earl of Derby, William, to Elizabeth de Vere in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I.

Directed by Matthew Dunster, formerly associate director at both the Young Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe, the tale of young love, feuding fairies and mistaken identity gets a dose of realism in this brand-new version.

The Playhouse will also host comedy and music from a wide variety of artists, with two local legends, Liverpool screenwriter Jimmy McGovern and St Helens comedian and actor Johnny Vegas booked for the first ticketed events inside the Cockpit Theatre – An Evening With Jimmy McGovern on July 23 and An Evening With Johnny Vegas on July 29.

The Shakespeare North Playhouse is inspired by Prescot’s historic connections to William Shakespeare and a love of storytelling. In addition to providing a world class attraction, its mission is to be a resource for the whole North West, nurturing creativity and talent through an inclusive education programme, as a catalyst for transforming lives. The building will be an accessible space full of joy and creativity, where everyone is welcome. 

The first plays to grace the Cockpit stage, from September 9 – 10, will be those written by three young winners of the As You Write It national playwriting competition, run in conjunction with BBC’s The One Show, as part of the theatre’s mission to nurture new talent.

The all-female trio of winners will appear on tonight’s (March 24) The One Show, with a feature about their plays: All the World’s a Stage by Ruby, aged 15, from Lancashire; Telling Tales by Rosie, aged 11, from Ayrshire, and Nectarine by Ana, 17, from Brighton.

Headline show for the autumn and winter season will be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, recreated with a distinctly Knowsley feel, offering ‘a slightly bonkers, fast and furious retelling of the original text with some familiar local references and a sprinkling of pantomime fun’.

Written by Nick Lane, associate artist at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, the play is directed by Ellie Hurt, co-founder of Liverpool’s The B Collective and associate director of Hamlet at the National Theatre, and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. It runs from November 25 to January 7.

Tickets will go on sale for all Shakespeare North Playhouse shows at the end of April, with ticket prices from £3 to £35 with discounts for families, schools, groups, and other concessions throughout the season.

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