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It's a model and it's looking good...

But will the brand-new Everyman get rave notices when it replaces the one being demolished?

Published on May 28th 2010.


It's a model and it's looking good...

THE model of the new Everyman Theatre has been doing the rounds for months now – with all manner of people who shaped its past invited to put their two-penneth forward by the people shaping its future.

People get passionate about the Everyman. It's an “ownership” thing. Perhaps that's the biggest compliment the legacy of Alan Dosser - and those who originally tabled its ethos of democracy could
have hoped for

This is a prudent move: the finished article, although it's only a model, has been through several rehearsals with them to get it to this: the “press-ready” stage revealed on Wednesday. Yes, the media finally got a look in – and that means you too.

But let's make no bones about it, the theatre, as it now stands, does not have a future. The Everyman is being completely torn down - and a new £28m building will take its place. In the words of its artistic director, Gemma Bodinez, “you don't do that sort of thing lightly”.

You don't mention it lightly either. Even last Friday in the hallowed Everyman Bistro down below, the demolition was still breaking news, so to speak, when it came up in chat.

The reality of the impending wrecking ball has swung past a lot of people who appear to have thought the theatre was merely undergoing some sort of Gok makeover. This in spite of the local papers reporting “new theatre for Hope St” stories as faithfully and regularly as a cathedral-goer attending Sunday Mass over the road.

It's surprising, as people get passionate about the Everyman: strangely, even those who rarely attend plays there any more. It's an “ownership” thing. Perhaps that's the biggest compliment the legacy of Alan Dosser - and those who originally tabled this ethos of democracy - could have hoped for.

Even now. One person in the Bistro on Friday was incensed at the “new news”. They had already lost their beloved Bluecoat, where they had walked in as a teenage Norris Green tearaway and come out a pianist (eventually becoming a professional composer). Now it was happening again.

Or is it? Once you accept that the Everyman does attract love like no other theatre, you have to be a bit more careful than that when you mess about. Its history might be illustrious but for many it's in living memory and you have to take that into account.

Maybe as a result of their consultations with the great and the not-so-good, or maybe because the mission of theatre people is to please crowds, those behind The New appear keen to push this particular civic regeneration project with a far more sensitive hand than the people of Liverpool have had to put up with over the last few years.

Rather, almost as if cajoling an anxious child, they begin by telling us how the old theatre, last refurbished in 1977, has become unworkable. It is unwelcoming to the stranger, to the disabled, to the theatre company that it wants to bring in. Actors deserve better, audiences deserve better. This is better.

“The new Everyman takes all that is most loved about the present theatre and reinvigorates them in the context of a theatre fit for future generations of audiences and artists,” Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz says.

Of course the 1977 Everyman was very workable and fit for purpose, the main reason being that until the early 1990s it had its in-house rep company and director on the payroll. They would stage bespoke, brand new productions for that familiar, set-in-stone space: pews to the sides and raked seating to the front - your Julie Walters, Matthew Kellys and Pete Postlethwaites treading the boards in workmanlike plays every four weeks.

The only variation was Ken Campbell's The Warp when all the seating was ripped out for an entire season to make room for several stages erected around the auditorium.


By Angie Sammons

So when a show was gone, it was gone – and go too did the cash that enabled that Everyman rep company to exist. It was brought to its knees, in fact, and was bought out by the Bistro's owners - the Byrne brothers and Dave Scott - in the mid 1990s. A programme of populist Night Collar-style shows returned it to the black, putting the everybums on every seat. The Liverpool & Merseyside Theatres Trust was formed in 1999 to create a shared management for Liverpool's Everyman theatre and Playhouse. Eventually the debt was repaid and the building has since been bought back.

In these leaner times, not many theatres have the luxury of a tailor-made repertory company. The Everyman often co-produces shows with other theatres around the UK and it also buys existing productions in.

Now London architects Haworth Tompkins, have come up with a design which, they say, has more to do with the original Hope Street Hall which predated the present theatre. A bit. There will be three floors, a writers' hub and an auditorium that loads sets straight from the street, dramatically reducing get-in times; a 21h century lighting rig, dressing rooms with windows, pavement cafe, big rehearsal spaces. The car park at the back in Arrad Street has been bought from the Medical Institution and the new build will spread onto this too.

Bodinez and executive director Deborah Aydon want it to be a major player with the “edgy” touch, and these plans have all singing and dancing everything.It has to be adaptable, they say, reassuring us that the e v e r y m a n definitive neon signage, will remain – and without resorting to the word “iconic” once.

“We are restricted by the kind of theatre we can put on. In Capital of Culture year companies who wanted to work here, such as Cheek By Jowl, were having to be turned away because of the limitations of the seating,” said GB. Explaining the disappointment of a Kirkby group when they came in to perform and saw the state of the dressing rooms, she finished by adding that “communities of Liverpool deserve the best”.

On what is, literally, the face of it, the Tomkins piece has been thoughtfully designed, and with its wide open frontage letting in light, green credentials and musical auditorium chairs that can be moved a dozen ways what's not to like?

Here's the plan. With £15m pledged from Arts Council England and £2.5m invested from the North West Development Agency, the Trust is progressing bids for £6m of funding from the European Regional Development Fund and a further £3m from the North West Development Agency. The balance is being sought from fundraising and appeals. “We are futureproofing it,” Aydon and Bodinez declare towards the end - any early trepidation in their public address replaced by firm conviction.

What shape the Bistro will take, which carries possibly more emotional weight and sentimentality, is still open to discussion. The whole building, after all, was once described by the Times as a restaurant with a theatre attached. Paddy Byrne, although he has been consulted, is coming up to retirement age. It could go out to public tender, or something else again.

It's already got Roger McGough concerned (he lives in London but was keen to point out that he first met Adrian Henri and Brian Patten down there) and several others who experienced life defining moments in its sweaty, characteristically fragrant rooms, and yet haven't bought a drink in there for years. That's not a barb by the way, merely an observation.

Aside of this reservation, on paper, on Powerpoint and in plaster of Paris, the new funsize Everyman passes the audition. Now to see if the multi-million pound life size version attracts the rave notices of the real every-man, come 2013.

*The Everyman Theatre plans go before Liverpool City Council today (May 27) and there will follow a public consultation in the summer.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

TourmanMay 27th 2010.

Why bother retaining the neon Everyman sign, the thing never works, there is nearly always a missing letter, it costs money and energy to run. Why not just have a sign. Hope Street is lit up like a Cruise Ship anyway. There is no need for the neon sign.

NMay 27th 2010.

Personally I don't see what's wrong with leaving it. I liked the pews and it's done alright till now, Keep it, I would.

Bill NighyMay 27th 2010.

Can't see this happening now, can you?

AnonymousMay 27th 2010.

By the look of these plans, the Everyman Bistro, currently to the right, is being filled in with rubble, or nothing. Given the fact that the Bistro has had a major cultural impact on the creativeness of the city in the last 40 years can we expect a Cavern-like response where our wellmeaning lady friends just fill the ****er in? I sincerely hope not

JoanMay 27th 2010.

I love the plans and think they will create an extraordinary theatre. I have had the great honour of working at the Everyman twice - the first time was my first "proper" job after college many moons ago. I sat in that tiny old box office selling tickets whilst they built the lift behind me! It was mad and magical all at once. I used to open the little fold-back windows every day and feel like the luckiest person alive. It was start of a love affair with theatre and the arts in Liverpool in general which is still as passionate as ever 22 years later.People may remember a show called No Holds Barred - a Shakespeare spoof - with Andrew Schofield and Mickey Starke as the stars. Every day, Mr Starke would come in to the box office and have a chat - his nick-name for the Everyman was the "Each Person" in a kindly nod to the prevailing "political correctness" of the times, but I can't help feel that "Each Person" sums the place up - each and every person through those glass doors has felt the spell of the place upon them. It is definitely time however for the Ev to move on and I can't think of safer hands to guide it than those of the current team. They have achieved an extraordinary amount in their time so far, and I feel that the New Ev will be a joy to behold - especially for anyone who has to swelter away backstage there at the moment!I'm off to the Bistro tonight in fact, and also feel s alight trepidation about this hub of all things boho but, again, I have the feeling that something as good as this will survive and come back all the stronger.

JoanMay 27th 2010.

One more moment of nostalgia - we used to take bets each morning on what part of the neon sign wouldn't light up that night. It wouldn't be the same without old Eve Ryman!

No, no noMay 27th 2010.

Tourman, you have got it all wrong! The essence of the Everyman is right and it would be very wrong to wipe the slate clean completely, and I am glad they are keeping the old fonts on the signage. The new theatre appears to has gone through several consultations with all the people who care about it to get it right. As Angie says, wise move when people behind these big civic projects have tended to **** what people think and just go for it in the last few years. It'll be alright on the nite!

Michael MyersMay 27th 2010.

Have to confess not a fan of demolishing a holy grail just so touring theatres can get in and out easier and the lovie's have nice mirrors. I guess the days of repair and renovate don't apply here

Liverpool.LilMay 27th 2010.

I don't know - when we got Christ the King (that's the concrete Flying Saucer - that poses as an RC Cathedral) we threw our arms in the air and cried "Enough!" But then we got used to it - and the lantern does look pretty when its lit up... It was a lot better than the 'thing' that was there before waiting for completion - looking like a four-poster bed without the bed! I guess this new monstrousity - sorry Statuesque Monument - will grow on us and become yet another miracle on the Liverpool Skyline. I loved St. James Cathedral when it was built (that's the C of E one on the hill) above Hope Street School of Art. I love the lions at St. George's Hall - you looked at their expressions lately? The story goes that when Maggie May went past they looked at her quizzically and the tooth fairy froze their expressions for all to see, Even Charlie Forte had a good laugh when he looked at those lions. It was great when he worked on the street - but now he owns a string of hotels across the world...I guess that's the secret of success in the statuary world - make the statue do something - and its sure to win! ;)

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