The £30m theatre opens in Prescot in July

Shakespeare North Playhouse has unveiled its opening programme, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Johnny Vegas, and Jimmy McGovern among the season highlights at the iconic new £30m theatre in Prescot, Liverpool. The stunning new 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 15-17 July. 

Let's make it up north, let's do it up north, let’s have some faith in us up north.

Events continue with a weekend of Open Up performances on July 16 and 17, curated by inspirational Prescot-born playwright, actor and community champion Ashleigh Nugent. Open Up will be the first chance for the public to experience tours of the extraordinary new 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.

Shakespeare North Playhouse Prescot Liverpool Credit Austin Smith Lord
Shakespeare North opens in July 2022 Image: Austin Smith Lord

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.

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.

Headline show for the autumn and winter season will be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, written by Nick Lane and recreated with a distinctly Knowsley feel. 

The Shakespeare North Playhouse is inspired by Prescot’s historic connections to William Shakespeare and a love of storytelling. In the late 1500s, a remarkable theatre stood in the town of Prescot. The playhouse hosted performances by a company whose patron was the Earl of Derby, resident at Knowsley Hall. 

A Midsummer Night’S Dream Shakespeare North Playhouse Prescot Liverpool
A Midsummer Night's Dream takes centre stage in September Image: PR

It is thought that it was the only purpose built playhouse outside of London. During the plague, London’s best performers were forced out of the capital to towns like Prescot. They brought with them new shows from a popular playwright of the day, William Shakespeare and were grateful for the Earl’s support.

In addition to providing a world class attraction, Shakespeare North Playhouse aims to be a resource for the whole North West, nurturing creativity and talent through an inclusive education programme, as a catalyst for transforming lives. 

Laura Collier, creative director at Shakespeare North Playhouse who programmed the season, said, “We're thrilled to announce our opening season, which is very much a statement of intent in terms of our ambition for the venue and our engagement with the local community and audiences in the years ahead.

“We want the building to be a beacon for creative excellence, as well as a supportive and nurturing playground for people to explore ideas and develop their own creative voice.”  

Shakespeare North Playhouse Prescot An Evening With Jimmy Mc Govern Johnny Vegas
Jimmy McGovern and Johnny Vegas Image: PR

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.

"On the architectural side it’s absolutely stunning," said Johnny Vegas. 

"Being in the round I’ve always loved that type of theatre. It feels accessible and for something that is Shakespearean based that’s the beauty of it. It feels intimate. It doesn’t feel like there’s a cheap seat in the house and that’s beautiful. You walk in there and you feel like we've taken culture back. 

 "It is a major cultural icon coming to a most unexpected place - it's going to be monumental for us. Let's make it up north, let's do it up north, let’s have some faith in us up north. 

"Creatively this can be that beacon for us to start coming together and proving for the rest of the world just what talent we have contained in this bit of the country. We breed talent here so let's celebrate it."

2019 06 11 Shakespeare
Bard times - William Shakespeare

Jimmy McGovern said, “I found it breath-taking, there’s a cosiness and an intimacy in there and yet it can seat over 400 people at times, and you feel as though you are right on top of all the action, it’s incredible.

“To actually be there and know that this is almost splinter by splinter what it was like in the time of Shakespeare, that adds something special to it.

“All the outlying towns will be helped by this economically, but there’s a cultural kick as well, to have what I think is going to be a world-renowned theatre smack in the middle of the North West. I think that’s a great boon to this area. I’m thrilled by it.”

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.

Shakespeare North Playhouse, Prospero Place, Prescot, L34 3AB