The new Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot, UK, is an exciting theatre space and undoubtedly a bold undertaking in difficult times for theatres.
Prescot – a town that is a half-hour drive east of Liverpool – once claimed to have the only indoor Elizabethan playhouse outside London, and local myth says that Shakespeare trod the boards there. It was active for the two decades around 1600.
Inigo Jones – one of the most famous architects in England and Wales, responsible for introducing the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance – designed a royal playhouse known as the Cockpit-in-Court (and, indeed, the theatre boasted a cock fighting pit as well as a stage) in London in 1629. It is his designs for this long-gone theatre that have been used in Prescot. 60 tonnes of English oak have been used for the stunning project, where there are no nails or screws, but joinery techniques used in carpentry 400 years ago.
The architect Nicholas Helm explains:
The most fascinating aspect of the theatre is how it was transformed and experimented with over time and then finally became a fixed solution. This was as Inigo Jones’s renaissance version of the Shakespearean stage, a capture of what it had been, and a perpetuation of a type on the wane since 1612, the moment of Shakespeare’s Tempest productions.
In our replica concept we have attempted to honour both the experimental space of Shakespeare’s lifetime and the permanent stage that followed. In essence we have two theatres in one, each with its own character.
The project has cost a hefty £36 million (€42 million) for a theatre that can house 470 spectators. However, the building also contains an art gallery, a studio theatre as well as educational spaces and an outdoor “performance garden”. The garden theatre was made possible by a £700,000 donation by the Sir Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation. Ken Dodd was a much-loved British comedian who was born in Knotty Ash, halfway between Prescot and Liverpool. Dodd’s passion for Shakespeare has come together in this garden space where his famous quips are intermingled with Shakespeare quotes inscribed on the concrete steps of the amphitheatre.