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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 27th 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.

As if cajoling an anxious toddler, 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

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 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 building will take its place. In the words of its artistic director, Gemma Bodinetz, “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 tabled its original ethos of democracy in theatre 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, as if cajoling an anxious toddler, 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 10 weeks to make room for several stages erected around the auditorium.

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. Eventually the debt was repaid and the building has since been bought back.

In these 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 using 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? “We are futureproofing it,” Aydon and Bodinez declare towards the end - any early trepidation replaced by 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.

With 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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