Plans to create a new focal point for Shakespearean theatre in the UK are moving into an exciting new delivery phase. The Shakespeare North Playhouse being built in Prescot, Knowsley will complete the UK’s Shakespearean triangle (London. Stratford-upon-Avon. Prescot) and be a nationally and internationally significant cultural and educational asset.

To mark the start of an exciting new phase of delivery, Lord and Lady Derby – whose family links to Shakespeare help to set the scene for this development – welcomed specially invited guests to a reception at their home, Knowsley Hall.

Renowned historian David Starkey CBE and local actor Josh Bolt were among the special guests to share their views on the development, the fascinating history linking the Stanley family to Shakespeare and the potential power of theatre and the arts in the lives and futures of young people in the area.

Another of the VIP guests, Lady Anne Dodd, spoke at the event to urge others to get behind the project. She announced she will be making an initial donation of £250,000 on behalf of the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation Trust. This will go towards the creation of a performance garden at the theatre, of which her late husband Sir Ken Dodd was a patron.

Ian Tabbron, Interim Chief Executive of The Shakespeare North Playhouse commented:

“This is a landmark event for everyone involved in The Shakespeare North Playhouse development. It marks the start of a distinctive phase of delivery for a project that has been a dream for many people for many years.

Harnessing the inexhaustible inspiration of Shakespeare, our vision is for a unique theatre with a broad ranging artistic and educational programme. Alongside signature Shakespearean performances will sit contemporary productions, music, comedy, dance and many participatory opportunities for young people and their families. It is a highly inclusive vision and one that we intend will ensure the long term success and sustainability of a nationally significant cultural asset.”

Construction work has already commenced on the new Playhouse in Prescot which when complete will provide a 350 seat theatre, modelled on the cockpit-in-court design of the 17th century. Alongside the theatre will be an outdoor performance garden, exhibition and visitor centre and educational facilities.

Cllr Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council, said: “The Shakespeare North Playhouse project is one that we are so immensely proud of here in Knowsley. Our history and links to Elizabethan theatre are absolutely fascinating and we want to tell that story as far and wide as we can.

“For our communities here in Knowsley, excitement is already building with lots of people coming forward to volunteer, get more involved and even open businesses in Prescot in anticipation of construction work completing. All this, before a single word is said on stage or ticket bought. It really is overwhelming to think of the positive impact that we will see here in Knowsley once the curtain goes up on the opening performance.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “As a Combined Authority we have agreed to invest more than £10.5 million in the Shakespeare North Playhouse because we can see what a transformative effect it will have. This hugely ambitious project will attract jobs and investment, as well as visitors, and will benefit the whole of the Liverpool City Region, as it looks set to become a nationally important visitor attraction.”

Initial piling, drainage and excavation work has been completed on the site with work now taking place off site on the fabrication of the historic timber framed theatre which will be the centrepiece of the new Playhouse. This is being manufactured by Peter McCurdy, a world renowned creator of historic theatres including the Globe and the Sam Wanamaker theatre.

The project is being funded by Knowsley Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and central government. Work is expected to complete on the theatre in 2022 to coincide with Knowsley’s year as Liverpool City Region Borough of Culture.