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HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visits Shakespeare North Playhouse

by Jonathan Kearney

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, has today visited Prescot to formally open Shakespeare North Playhouse and take a tour of this new multi-million pound arts venue.

The Duke was welcomed to Shakespeare North Playhouse by Max Steinberg CBE DL, the Chair of the Shakespeare North Trust and playhouse Chief Executive, Melanie Lewis.

He also met local MP Marie Rimmer; Knowsley Council Leader, Cllr Graham Morgan; Chief Executive, Mike Harden; the Mayor and Mayoress of Knowsley; the High Sherriff of Merseyside, Dr Ruth Hussey; Lord and Lady Derby and Lady Anne Dodd.

The Duke chatted to some of the people who have been instrumental in the creation of this new cultural venue including members of the construction team, architects and project managers. He also met key members of the Shakespeare North Playhouse team and some of the creative professionals involved in the opening programme. A key highlight of his visit was meeting children from Alt Bridge School who are engaged in the educational offer available at theatre.

After his tour of the new building and cockpit theatre, HRH unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the visit and the building’s official opening.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visits Shakespeare North Playhouse

Max Steinberg CBE DL, Chair of Shakespeare North Trust commented: “I was delighted to welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh to officially open Shakespeare North Playhouse. It is testament to the importance of this facility in the UK’s cultural offering that we should benefit from a royal visit like this. And given The Duke’s own passion for theatre and the arts it was an honour to be able to tour the building with him and show him the fantastic spaces that we have created here.”

“I was also keen to highlight to The Duke the significant economic and regenerative impact that this venue is having for Knowsley and the many wider benefits it is bringing for local people.”

Melanie Lewis, Chief Executive of Shakespeare North Playhouse added: “It has been a pleasure to welcome His Royal Highness today. His Royal Highness shares our belief that arts and culture can be transformative to both place and people and so, it has been wonderful to introduce him to the team, share our achievements and our aspirations for Shakespeare North Playhouse.

His Royal Highness heard all about our bold and brave nature and how across the organisation we embody that Elizabethan flare for boundary pushing, making culture accessible to all. It was a joy to share just a few of our highlights including the work we do with young people so he could witness the immediate impact it has.”

Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council added: “I am absolutely thrilled that His Royal Highness took the time to visit Knowsley today and tour our wonderful new cultural venue. This visit was a real boost for borough and another great opportunity to put Prescot on the map as an important cultural destination in the UK.”

The ground-breaking Shakespeare North Playhouse opened to the public in July 2022. This multi-million-pound venue in Prescot is home to the only 17th-century style, timber-built “Cockpit” theatre outside London, able to seat 450 spectators. Built entirely during the pandemic thanks to public funds and donations, the new venue is anticipated to attract over 140,000 visitors a year to the region.

Housed inside this modern, energy-efficient building, the venue is also home to a fully-accessible outdoor performance garden funded by the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, exhibition gallery, 60-seater studio theatre, learning centre, events spaces, and a café and bar with outdoor piazza.

2023 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio publication, and Shakespeare North Playhouse aim to celebrate this through programming that pays homage to the First Folio and its historic significance.  One of Shakespeare’s most revered tragedies, Macbeth takes to the Cockpit Stage. The venue will also present the European premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s award-winning comedy The Book of Will, the story of the Folio’s creation, and Shakespeare’s Globe will visit with their production of Midsummer Mechanicals.

The venue will also host a programme of regular family and community activities and events. This will include pre-school music, storytelling and spoken word sessions, monthly open mic nights for beginners and experienced performers, craft, heritage, art and writing workshops for families, local school children and adults.

In support of the Playhouse’s commitment to the local community and access to the arts, a proportion of tickets will be available on a ‘Pay What You Decide’ basis, with some reserved for Knowsley residents.

Funding for the project came from Knowsley Council (£12.2m), Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (£10.5m), the Treasury via Arts Council England (£5m), plus £3m from the Government’s Covid-19 Cultural Recovery Fund. Another £1m+ has come from private and philanthropic donations including the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The Foyle Foundation. A further £8m is being provided by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in order to improve the local transport infrastructure.