Light up, light up: The Everyman announces its opening season

Kevin Bourke

As the influential theatre gears up for reopening, and the first tickets go on sale, we take a look at what its launch season has in store.

Liverpool’s historic Everyman theatre has been dark for two years while being completely rebuilt. The venue finally reopens on 1 March with a Lights Up parade along Hope Street, created in collaboration with the Liverpool Lantern Company and outdoor art experts Walk The Plank. The following day sees the theatre hosting a “housewarming” event to welcome Liverpool’s citizens back through its doors. These are the people who have played an important part in the theatre’s redesign: portraits of 105 residents from across Merseyside have been etched into the new metal shutters that adorn the front. More than just a totemic gesture, this iconography represents a theatre that remembers the city it lives in.

Executive Director Deborah Aydon, who has been planning the theatre’s rebirth for nearly ten years, is adamant that the new Everyman will be at the social centre, as well as the creative nexus, of the city. Alongside the theatre’s new creative spaces – which include a Writers’ Room and special studio for youth group Young Everyman Playhouse – fresh eating, drinking and socializing areas will be open from early morning until long after the curtain falls on the stage. The Everyman’s much-loved basement bistro, home from home for many an impoverished actor over the years, will be dramatically spruced up and joined by a new ground floor café, first floor bar and balcony above the glowing red of the iconic sign.

Twelfth Night is a night of naughtiness, which is what I’ve always thought the Everyman was

Yet it is the 400-seat theatre, redesigned by Haworth Tompkins, which is at the heart of the enlivened theatre. Here again the Everyman has thought about how to include its audience: the auditorium showcases a “thrust” stage, which extends out into the seating. The same inclusivity has been applied to the shows that will tread the boards. Speaking to us about the Everyman’s inaugural program, Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz emphasized the importance of choices that would reflect the theatre’s trademark individualism, charm and passion. “For a long time, I’d thought that we’d open the new theatre with a new play by a Liverpool writer,” she discloses. “But I picked Twelfth Night instead because I didn’t think it was fair to distract from a new play by everyone thinking about seeing the space itself for the first time. Shakespeare, on the other hand, is robust enough for that! Also Twelfth Night is a night of naughtiness, which is what I’ve always thought the Everyman was at its best.”

Twelfth Night, moreover, sees the return of Matthew Kelly (as Sir Toby Belch) and Nick Woodeson (as Malvolio), two members of the celebrated Everyman company of 1974. The cast also includes Adam Levy, who was in Bodinetz’s first show at the Everyman, The Kindness Of Strangers. These are some examples of how the theatre will remember its past, even as it is looking forward. “But,” says Bodinetz, “The second play had to be a new play by a Liverpool writer: we have the world première of Hope Place, specially commissioned from Michael Wynne, who has spent his career celebrating this city and this region. He has written a beautiful play that is set in Hope Place, just around the corner from here, and is a multi-generational story of myths, memories and secrets, looking at the way families – or places like Liverpool – can mythologise themselves.

The theatre continues this investment in originality by placing offshoot Young Everyman Playhouse at the centre of its opening season: the lineup will include a production that has been penned and performed by youthful writers and actors. Finally, the season will end with a renegade new version of musical satire The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay – here retitled Dead Dog in A Suitcase – in collaboration with effervescent theatre company Kneehigh. “It’s a very proud day for me to be able to say that one of the bravest, wittiest, most joyous and naughtiest theatre companies in the world should be part of our new season and have responded to the heart and the spirit of the Everyman,” Bodinetz enthuses. We suspect it will be the perfect way to end Everyman’s launch back into Liverpool’s cultural heart.

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