The £38m Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot, UK has opened in Liverpool City Region. The theatre is a major catalyst for regeneration in Prescot leading to the opening of new businesses in the market town. Mott MacDonald was the civil, structural, environmental and transport engineer for the project for Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (KMBC). The project architects were Helm Architects supported by Austin Smith Lord. The Playhouse was funded by Knowsley Council, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the Treasury via Arts Council England, the government’s Covid-19 Cultural Recovery Fund, and private donations.
Back in the 1590s a theatre in the town hosted performances made possible by the Earl of Derby, resident at Knowsley Hall. The new theatre is a relative of the original Globe theatre and will bring Shakespeare and other performances back to Prescot. As well as theatre, the venue will hold music, comedy, workshops, events and activities in an accessible setting. Tickets will be sold on a “pay what you decide” basis to ensure it is accessible to people of regardless of financial situation.
The theatre is boosting the local economy of the market town by contributing to the regeneration of the area which has included new shops, cafes, bars and housing. The area will also receive investment of a £3.1 million heritage-led scheme set to breathe new life into the town centre.
The playhouse has multiple performance spaces including the Sir Ken Performance Garden and Studio and is expected to attract more than 140,000 visitors per year. At its heart is the Cockpit Theatre which has a capacity of 320 when in end stage format and 460 when configured in-the-round. The Cockpit Theatre is based on the Inigo Jones cock-pit-in-court theatre and when in end stage configuration a Frons Scenae can be in place, a scenic front that separates the world of backstage from onstage. Historical references were used to develop the stage and scenic elements. The framing to the theatre was constructed in reclaimed green heart oak using traditional jointing methods by Peter McCurdy, who was also responsible for the Globe replica.
Mott MacDonald began working on the project in June 2015, supporting the planning application for the project. The consultancy then carried out all the civil and structural engineering design works.
Ian Rank, Mott MacDonald’s project manager, said: “As a local Prescotian, I am extremely proud to have been part of the design team which has resulted in the building of the Shakespeare North Playhouse. The theatre is adding to the regeneration of Prescot and its surrounding area, from the new bars, restaurants and coffee shops along Eccleston Street to the redevelopment of Market Place. The new theatre and its surrounds will benefit the local community and enhance Prescot’s reputation as a market town on the rise.”