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As the Epstein closes its doors today, what’s next for city theatre?

11 months ago

As the Epstein closes its doors today, what’s next for city theatre?

The Epstein Theatre has drawn its curtain for the final time – but could it still be saved?

The Epstein Theatre will close its doors today after financial support from Liverpool City Council comes to an end – but those looking to save it say talks could start as early as next week to work out a rescue solution.

The directors of Epstein Productions which was given the contract to operate the theatre in 2018 say they have been flooded with support from people in the creative industry and the business community.

“So many people have come to say let’s talk – and even the council has come back to the table,” said Bill Elms, artistic and communications director for the theatre.

“We have spoken to Councillor Harry Doyle – currently serving as the Assistant Mayor and cabinet member for culture & visitor economy – who came into one of the open days we held on Tuesday. We had a really good discussion with him and we’re going to get round the table with him as early as next week to see what we can achieve.

“It was really good to see him because we haven’t had any face-to-face conversations with the council for the last six months, and so for him to come in and be able to sit down really felt as though there was a way forward.”

And Bill added: “I would say we’d need to know if there was an option to move forward in a matter of weeks, although that’s not to say that the venue will reopen in a few weeks. The way venues work and with having to programme six-12 months in advance, if a solution is found we would be looking at 2024.

“But I am 100% hoping that can, and will, happen.

“It will leave such a huge void in the theatrical landscape of the city, people are going to continue to fight.”

With much talk about Paul McCartney perhaps stepping in to save the theatre, Bill also revealed that he and fellow directors, Jane and Chantelle Joseph, have reached out to the Beatles legend and a request for help has been received by his charities/campaigns office.

“We have reached out to various people and organisations and Paul is one of them,” confirmed Bill. “So fingers crossed.”

As closure day for the Epstein Theatre approached it’s been an ‘emotional and hectic’ week for everyone involved.

Around 500 people passed through its doors on Monday and Tuesday this week to say their goodbyes and have a last look at the theatre – at least for a while.

Actors Joe McGann and Ricky Tomlinson were among those who visited, and city writer Anthony Schumacher.

“What was really nice was people coming in and sharing their memories of the place,” Bill went on, “their feelings about it closing. They can see what an asset it is for the city and we had people coming in who were here in the 80s when it was the Neptune, and people who were here only a few weeks ago who had a great time and can’t process what’s happening.”

The closure was announced earlier this month following a decision surrounding the management agreement between Epstein Entertainments Ltd, Liverpool City Council and a commercial property landlord which owns the lease to the building but sub-leases the theatre back to the entertainment company. 

As part of the management agreement, the council was to cover a proportion of the rent, service charge, utilities, and maintenance work. The local authority has financially supported the venue since the 60s, reaching in recent years around £100,000 a year. But the funding has now come to an end, along with the management agreement, and according to Liverpool City Council that decision was made in 2021.

Epstein Productions said requests for even half of what the council had been paying, of £50,000, were made but refused. 

A petition to save the theatre has so far gathered more than 11,000 signatures.

Bill said: “The theatre will close today.

“It’s pretty much our last working day at the theatre. Over the weekend and on Monday, we will start packing everything away and, on Monday, we will lock the doors and hand the keys back to the council.

“But that’s not the end.

“There is a need for this size of theatre in our city and the people it provides that space for; there is nowhere else, not another theatre, that reaches out to the community or offers somewhere for new work like this theatre does.

“It is a historic building as well, and so there are other organisations we could reach out to for funding; we can’t let this theatre, this building go.”

And he added: “There is a glimmer of hope, I’m ever much the optimist. Certainly nobody is walking away.

“The talks will re-start next week and we will do everything possible to save the Epstein Theatre.” 

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