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A new home for Shakespeare

01 November 2007

University expertise is supporting a major funding application to reconstruct a playhouse described as "the most important Shakespearean theatre yet to be rebuilt" in an unexpected location.

The idea of rebuilding the first indoor theatre in England, and the only purpose-built playhouse outside London in Shakespeare’s lifetime, originates from a conference organised by Professor Richard Wilson, School of English, Communication and Philosophy in 1999.

The Elizabethan playhouse is located at Prescot, Liverpool and with Professor Wilson as academic adviser the project has now reached the final stage of a £27 million ‘Big Lottery’ application to fund the reconstruction.

The application coincides with the run-up to Liverpool’s year as Cultural Capital of Europe, but would not have been possible without the rediscovery of the ‘Lancashire Shakespeare’ connections substantiated by Professor Wilson in books such as Secret Shakespeare (Manchester University Press, 2004).

Professor Wilson said: "The possibility of extending the ‘Shakespeare industry’ to Liverpool has enormous economic, cultural and educational implications for the North-West.

"Our aim is for the theatre to become a focus for the rediscovery of a crucial part of the Shakespeare story: the great touring network that carried Elizabethan actors through Britain and Europe as far as Denmark, Germany and Poland."

Through Professor Wilson’s research it emerges that the playhouse was built in Prescot because Shakespeare’s company acted for the Earl of Derby throughout the 1590s. Plays such as Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were likely to have been staged there for the Earl.

Professor Martin Kayman, Head of the Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy said: "As academic adviser Professor Wilson has provided the narrative which underpins the ‘Big Lottery’ application, and has liaised closely with the architectural team to design the best possible reconstruction of the original playhouse for the benefit of future generations of scholars and students."

In the absence of plans for the original Prescot playhouse, the project is to reconstruct the Cockpit in Court, a 1629 Downing Street theatre for which exact designs survive by the great architect Inigo Jones. Its reconstruction is supported by Shakespeare’s Globe as a northern venue for future Globe productions.