Recruitment hailed as significant milestone in development of £19m playhouse and education hub in Merseyside.
Plans for a £19m theatre in Merseyside are one step closer to realisation, with architects appointed to oversee the project.
Shakespeare North, a 350-seat replica Shakespearean theatre and education hub in Knowsley, was awarded planning permission in April after councillors voted unanimously in favour.
London-based Helm Architecture will design the theatre and Austin-Smith: Lord LLB have been appointed as the supporting architects. Scale models, artists’ impressions and CGI images of the new theatre have been released
Organisers hope the project in Prescot, a town in Knowsley, will join Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe in London as one of three key destinations for Shakespeare lovers.
Prescot is thought to have been the only English town outside of London to have had a freestanding, purpose-built indoor playhouse in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, and Shakespeare is thought to have belonged to a troupe of actors who performed there.
Mike Murphy, Knowsley council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said securing the firms was “a significant milestone in the development of the playhouse, which reiterates our commitment to delivering this in Prescot”.
The chair of Shakespeare North, Peter Scott, said: “Our vision to have a playhouse in Prescot began 12 years ago and we’re delighted at the support and interest we have received in turning this vision into a reality.
“These key appointments will help us to recreate a Shakespearean theatre in Knowsley, which was once home to the only freestanding purpose-built Elizabethan era theatre outside of London.”
The engineering company Aecom has also been recruited to provide mechanical and electrical engineering services to the project, alongside Mott MacDonald, which will provide structural engineering services.
Construction is due to begin in November 2017, creating 210 temporary jobs, and the theatre is expected to open in 2020. The proposed site for the project is on a council-owned car park, which is thought to have been the location of a well-known Elizabethan cockfighting pit.
The former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and actors Dame Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave are among the project’s patrons.
The theatre will be built to designs drawn in 1629 by the architect and theatre designer Inigo Jones. He designed the Cockpit at Whitehall for the court of King James I.
Shakespeare is believed to have been a member of the theatre company Strange’s Men, which had the patronage of Lord Strange, the 4th Earl of Derby’s eldest son. The town of Prescot borders Knowsley Hall and estate, one of the main residences of the earls of Derby.
The Shakespeare North Trust hopes the project will bring social and economic regeneration to an area that is “eager for and deserving of change”.
The trust is in discussions with Liverpool John Moores University to help develop a one-year postgraduate programme focusing on Shakespearean stagecraft based at the planned playhouse.