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Issue:- 28 July 2011

Curtain rises on new era for theatre

THE Stage is set for one of Liverpoolís best loved theatres to take its place at the heart of cultural life in the city once more.

Work has been completed on the £1 million refurbishment of the former Neptune Theatre. The Hanover Street venue has been brought up to 21st century standards and now has a new name - The Epstein Theatre Ė in honour of former Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who guided the Fab Four from popular cellar act to global superstardom.

Liverpool City Council Leader, Councillor Joe Anderson, will join guests - including arts professionals and venue landlord David Ramsey - for the first official tour of the theatre, to see how the iconic venue has been restored to its former glory.

The event will also see the official unveiling of the stunning new Epstein signage adorning the front of the building.

Acquired by Liverpool Corporation in 1967 to be Ďrun by the people, for the peopleí, the 98 year old, Grade II listed theatre had to closed its doors back in 2005, as it failed to comply with safety regulations and was in need of major refurbishment.

Councillor Joe Anderson made the re-opening of the theatre one of his major priorities, and after ensuring the funding needed to carry out the refurbishment was ring-fenced, he personally agreed terms with the landlord, David Ramsey of Hanover Estate Management Ltd at the end of 2010, so that the redevelopment could begin.

The £1 million investment in the venue consists of £750,000 funding from the city council and a further £250,000 from the Hanover Estate Management Ltd.

Councillor Anderson said:- "This marks an exciting new beginning for the theatre, ushering in a new chapter in its illustrious history. It is a venue with an extremely rich heritage, which has been an important landmark on our cultural scene for many, many years. Iím absolutely delighted that our dream to bring it back into use is now officially a reality. The closure of the Neptune left a gaping hole in Liverpoolís cultural scene and its absence has been sorely felt by performers and audiences alike. Iím now looking forward to us bringing in a top-class operator so that we can complete the final part of our journey to restore the theatre as a platform for new and renowned performers, as well as invaluable resource for community groups."

Councillor Anderson said of the re-naming of the venue:- "Iím delighted Brianís family accepted our request to rename this venue The Epstein Theatre, as it gives us a fantastic opportunity to say thank you to one of our greatest sons. It also means we have a theatre with a world famous name which will hopefully make it a more attractive business, commercially. Brian Epsteinís contribution to our city goes much further than The Beatles. He put many Liverpool acts on the road to success and as such played a major part in helping establish the city as a music mecca. Itís fitting that such a well loved performance venue will now serve as a permanent tribute to him."

An Epstein family spokesman said of the new name for the theatre:- "Itís a wonderful homage to Brian. He loved the theatre and knew this one well. Just above Craneís Music Shop and only a few minutes walk from..." 

...continued... "...N.E.M.S (North End Music Stores) - the family business in Great Charlotte Street - Brian, along with his brother Clive, and parents Queenie and Harry, would often catch a performance. On behalf of all of them, weíd like to thank the City Council for this special tribute to Brian and his continuing role in Liverpoolís historic story and we wish this fine theatre every success in the future."

Liverpool based Nobles Construction and architects 2020 Liverpool have been responsible for the restoration, which has seen the 400 seat Edwardian venue brought up to 21st century standards - with new mahogany front doors, restored crystal chandeliers and modernisation features such as a complete replacement of electrics, disabled toilets and wheelchair accessibility throughout.

The council is now looking for an operator to run the theatre and following feedback from an initial search has put together a package which it believes will be appealing to potential operators in challenging economic times.

A tendering process will begin shortly to find an impresario who can make the theatre a major community venue.

The city council hopes to have an organisation in place by the end of the year to deliver a top quality community theatre programme, with the curtain possibly rising on shows once more by Christmas 2011.

David Ramsey, who performed at the Neptune as a boy, and has owned and managed Hanover House since 1987, said:- "I have a deep affection for this theatre and great childhood memories. I have said from the start that no one will be happier than me when it re-opens Ė and now that time has arrived. The Neptune is a very special theatre, with a fantastic story to tell. Iím delighted that its story can now continue with its new name, new sparkle and, in the near future, new operator. These are really exciting times for the theatre, and Iím looking forward to it going from strength to strength in the years to come."

Sophie Nixon of 2020 Liverpool, architectural conservationist and project manager of the Neptune refurbishment, said:- "Itís been a great privilege to have worked on the project and to have found that so many of the beautiful original features could be retained and restored. The chandelier is a great example of this Ė when lit up it really sparkles and gives an insight to how the original theatre must have looked. Our brief was to refurbish the internal parts of the theatre and improve access, in line with the Disability Discrimination Act, and we wanted to do all this whilst retaining as much of the original fabric as possible. We worked closely with Liverpool City Council in order to do so and Iím really pleased with the completion of what has been a fantastic team effort. The refurbishment and modernisation of the theatre has brought it firmly back into the 21st century and now we canít wait to see the curtain rise again on one of Liverpoolís most special theatres."

Peter Linford, director at Nobles Construction, said:- "The theatre looks fantastic. There has been great attention to detail to ensure the restoration is sympathetic to its Edwardian heritage, while also bringing it into the 21st Century for modern day use. The Neptune has always been one of Liverpoolís cultural jewels and weíre delighted to be handing the building back to Liverpool City Council as it enters the next step in its history."

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