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Merseyside Shakespeare theatre plan revived after eight years

Plans for Inigo-Jones' Cockpit Theatre, which would be used to create the new Playhouse in Prescot. Photo: Wikipedia Plans for Inigo Jones' Cockpit Theatre, which would be used to create the new Playhouse in Prescot. Photo: Wikipedia
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Long-held plans for a major new Shakespeare theatre and education hub in Merseyside have been resurrected, eight years after a failed Lottery bid put the project on hold.

The plans have been supported by culture minister Ed Vaizey, who said the project would be an “excellent opportunity” to inspire the next generation of theatremakers and performers in the region.

Proposals to build a new theatre on the site of a 16th-century Elizabethan theatre in Prescot, near Liverpool, were mooted 2007. The plans drew support from figures including Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart – but failure to secure funding for the multi-million pound construction led to the plans being shelved.

However, local MP George Howarth last week outlined renewed plans to create the theatre as part of a debate in the House of Commons.

Howarth, who is the Labour MP for Knowsley, said “a Shakespeare theatre of the north”, would celebrate the area’s connection to Shakespearean drama. Prescot was home to the only free-standing purpose-built theatre outside London during the Elizabethan period, and is thought to have played host to the first stagings of several of Shakespeare’s works.

Called the Playhouse in Prescot, the development would include a public theatre, built to later Jacobean designs drawn in 1629, as well as offering a programme of education and community engagement work, including an MA in Shakespeare performance and practice.

The plans are being led by the Shakespeare North Trust, which has a fundraising strategy to secure the cost of the £19 million scheme.

Speaking in Westminster, Howarth said the trust hoped to raise the money on “the basis of a Lottery bid”, but added: “However, if the chancellor happens to find a spare £19 million in his budget, we would be grateful to receive it towards capital costs.”

Culture minister Vaizey added that realising such a major project was “an ambitious target” but said it could be “an incredible asset for the heritage and tourism industry in this country”.

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