Theatre has fallen behind on the rent

The Epstein’s Christmas panto, Peter Pan, opens this weekend, and if anybody dares to shout, “It’s closing!”  The loud reply will be, “Oh no it’s not!”

The opening night comes just 24 hours after it was announced that administrators have been called in to work on a financial restructuring plan with Liverpool City Council who own the freehold of what is the city’s “phoenix” theatre.

FRP Advisory is acting as administrator after the Epstein fell behind on its rent, but the plan is for FRP to continue to run the theatre as normal, retaining all 30 staff, while “restructuring” takes place: the aim being for the city council to become the primary leaseholder.

It’s far from being a case of the final curtain for the popular venue venue in Hanover Street, according to Rebekah Pichilingi, the theatre’s general manager.

The original Cranes music store

She said: “It is business as usual at the Epstein Theatre and this latest step by Liverpool City Council has given both myself and my team the peace of mind that the future of the Epstein is secure. We already have an incredible line-up of shows booked in until 2019 and we are continuing as normal to take bookings, including returning favourites and some exciting brand new productions, we look forward to many years of doing what we’ve always done best, providing top class entertainment in a warm and welcoming environment.  We would like to reassure all our customers and promoters that all shows will continue as planned.”

In a statement, FRP Advisory said “Epstein Theatre Limited has entered administration while productions, performances and bookings continue as normal, with Peter Pan Christmas Pantomime opening on Friday 8 December with an unchanged performance schedule.

“Lila Thomas and Jason Baker, partners at FRP Advisory, the business advisory firm, have been appointed as joint administrators to the operators of the from historic playhouse.

“The joint administrators will continue to trade the theatre as normal, ensuring all staff are retained in support of the upcoming schedule of booked productions which are all planned to open as normal. The joint administrators are working closely with the theatre’s management and the company’s stakeholders to ensure all the necessary support is in place for upcoming Christmas pantomime production of Peter Pan starting on Friday 8 December and due to run until 1 January 2018. Bookings continue as normal for all the productions advertised for the Theatre’s 2018 season.

"The joint administrators have support in place for the ongoing operations of the theatre and its staff, while they finalise a new and more sustainable financial structure for its continuing place at the heart of Liverpool’s cultural capital.”

Thomas said: “The Epstein Theatre doors remain open for the entirety of the Christmas season and beyond.

"Talks are at an advanced stage with key stakeholders for a financial restructure ensuring operations continue as normal for all current bookings, planned future shows and to place the theatre with a more sustainable structure to allow for another generation of successful performances across the spectrum of entertainment.

All theatre staff are being retained and paid as normal while a solution is finalised, and all existing contracts are being maintained for bookings, to ensure the show will go on for both theatre-goers and performers over the coming weeks while a transition to a new holding structure is agreed.”

The theatre that refuses to die


Against all the odds, the Epstein, previously the Neptune and before that Crane’s, has been the little theatre that just refuses to die.

It has faced the prospect of closure several times in its more-than-a-century life. It originally opened in 1913 as Crane's Music Hall above the musical instrument store opened by the Crane brothers. It changed its name to the Crane Theatre in 1938.

Threatened with closure in 1966, the theatre was purchased a year later from Cranes by Liverpool Corporation. They renamed it the Neptune and decided that the theatre should be run by local people for local people.

Lights out beckoned again in 1993, but there was a huge campaign by Dame Judi Dench to save the then Neptune.

In 2005, due to health and safety reasons, the theatre closed, and remained shut for five years, re-opening  after a £1m refurbishment in 2011 with a new name, the Epstein, to honour the memory of the late Beatles manager (who, incidentally, once ran Crane’s big city centre rival NEMS).

Liverpool is fortunate to boast more theatres than any city outside of London, each with its place in the city’s cultural jigsaw. Big shows are hosted at the Empire,  Scouse humour (mainly) at the Royal Court, rep and visiting companies at the Playhouse/Everyman combine, with the Epstein and the Unity, and a few other small spaces, catering for the rest.