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May the farce be with you

Larry Neild and whether the Neptune Theatre will ever rise from the ashes again

Published on March 3rd 2009.

May the farce be with you

The last time I went to the Neptune Theatre I did something awful. There was an amateur production of Carousel. The audience shed tears as Julie Jordan lamented during the dying moments no-hoper fairground barker Billy Bigelow, father of her unborn child.

As she cradled the dying Billy there was silence. It was a hot night and the windows were open. I could hear the emerging sound of a klaxon. I shouted.... Hang on Billy Lad, here’s the ambulance. There was sniggering laughter, drowned out by tut-tuts. Well I do like inter-active theatre.

The good-old Neptune. It was opened in 1913 as Cranes Music Hall, essentially as a demo-hall for musical instruments. The Grade II Edwardian gem can hold just over 400 people and became increasingly popular with amateur groups.

Early in 1966 it was threatened with closure, only to be purchased a year later by the city council. The name was changed to the Neptune from the Crane Theatre.Closure loomed again in 1993, prompting a campaign winning backing from stage giants such as Dame Judi Dench. They even dedicated the Neptune, in 1997, to the memory of Brian Epstein for his work in promoting Liverpool’s musical and artistic scene.

Fast forward to 2005 and the Neptune closed in 2005 for what was described as refurbishment. It was due to open in 2007, then we were told its grand re-opening would be one of highlights of the 08 cultural year.

Yet today the Neptune’s future remains uncertain and there’s not even a hint of a re-opening date. The crazy thing is the theatre COULD have a bright future.

So what’s the problem? In 2005 the council agreed to spend more than £800,000 on improving the Neptune.

Then a wrangle flared with the leaseholders Hanover Estates. Although

the council own the freehold to the theatre, Hanover are effectively the legal occupiers as leaseholders. They had been charging the council £6,000 a year and wanted to up the rent to £35,000. They argued the old rent wouldn’t even pay for a one-bedroomed flat in one of the new city centre apartment blocks.

The council offered £10,000. Others joined the fray, including the team currently running the Royal Court. Hanover also wanted the lease to be extended from its current 30-odd years to 125 years.

The rent row has now gone to arbitration and a decision is still awaited. Ironically the improvements planned by the council will probably have risen in costs to over £1m.

What’s the future then? Once the arbitrator has ruled on a fair rent the council will have the option of forging ahead with its planned improvements. Or it can walk away and leave Hanover to offer it to the Royal Court or another party keen to open a bar or restaurant.

Kevin Fearon from the Royal Court team believes the Neptune could complement what they already have, providing a smaller venue for amateur productions, comedy nights and other events.

Cllr Gary Millar, the council’s tourism cabinet member believes whatever happens the Neptune will have a bright future.

“It’s still under arbitration and there is nothing we can do until we know the result,” he says, “I’d love to see the Neptune reopen and I am certain it has a bright future.”So even if the matter is resolved today we are looking at later 2010 or even later before the curtain finally rises on the Neptune. And while the squabble over a rent difference of £25,000 a year continues, the costs continue to rise. Some may think the whole issue has become a theatrical farce.

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

AnonymousMarch 3rd 2009.

It would be a shame to see the theatre go. I go to the royal court regulary we have never been disapointed in any of the productions. It would be great to have a comedy club at the neptune.

AnonymousMarch 3rd 2009.

The Neptune is a tragedy. But my guess is that it won't reopen as a theatre. There is no money now. The window of opportunity has closed because of greedy property developing chumps.

Try New Improved DigMarch 3rd 2009.

I hate you whinging do-gooders, is homelessness the most noble of causes you can think of to support? Anyhow if 99% of them hadn't suffered a relationship breakdown, or been victim of domestic violence or been illegally evicted by a private landlord or suffered the death of a relative, or been a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or suffered a mental health problems or have spent a period in care or have been discharged from hospital, or have had a disaster like a house fire, or have been a victim of harassment or have had to flee a threat of or actual violence or have a disability or are living in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions or were able to afford somewhere safe to live, or hadn’t been found none priority for housing and left to rot on an endless waiting list or been viewed as ineligible to apply for social housing or not found that they couldn't get a job without an address or an address without a job etc. - they wouldn't be homeless in the first place.

Wow another Ann JobbMarch 3rd 2009.

Too !

DigMarch 3rd 2009.

Indeed I am a major Master Baiter! Erm, oh, wait there a minute.....

DigMarch 3rd 2009.

Not according an old school friend I used to speak to regularly. He ended up on the streets after heroin, theft then jail. Most of the guys he knew on the streets had similar tales of drugs, alcohol or jail. I know there are exceptions. He also told me of the sob stories they used to extract sympathy, food and money. Those tales are most of what Try New Improved Dig mentioned.

tallaqMarch 3rd 2009.

Homless people are victimsof brutality of society. why is poor in the streets of liverpool to beg. in iraq many are poor and do not beg but have no homes when british soldier come.

Doh!!!!March 3rd 2009.

Oh Dig! you are so naughty, you fooled us all again with your pretend narrow minded Daily Express baited comments. Carry on like this and you will be getting a reputation as a Master Baiter. You scamp!

DigMarch 3rd 2009.

I hate you whinging do-gooders. Is homelessness the most noble of causes you can think of to support? Anyhow, if 99% of them didn't end up alcoholics, on drugs or in jail they wouldn't be homeless in the 1st place.

barry stinchcombMarch 3rd 2009.

seen some of my best concerts ever on the neptune . strawbs, donovan, dennis loccorierre to name a few shame it closed down. probably never used as a concert venue ever again. memories never forgotten

DigMarch 3rd 2009.

Me? Blinkered? Never! Thanks for taking the bait though.

barry stinchcombMarch 3rd 2009.

seen some of my best concerts ever on the neptune . strawbs, donovan, dennis loccorierre to name a few shame it closed down. probably never used as a concert venue ever again. memories never forgotten

Darcy Bus StopMarch 3rd 2009.

Well the last thing I saw there was a production of Swan Lake by The Reduced Tchaikovsky Company. The curtain went up and somebody threw a dead duck on the stage. That was it. Thirty quid!

Mr. ChipsMarch 3rd 2009.

Tubby Jim, have you considered education?

Not in my backyardMarch 3rd 2009.

Well a woman I met on the bus once: You should run for mayor you know. Dig: You can be very blinkered sometimes. That's the kind of attitude that gets us nowhere and people like the Daily Mail and the BNP, yes, the BNP everywhere. Wise up!

tubbyjimMarch 3rd 2009.

More important things than some trashy theater exist. What about the plight of the hundreds of starving and homeless peopel forced to beg in Liverpool? Make it a hostel for these peopel not some rich kids theater. Poor peopel need hostels and a place to eat and have some resting not some posh snobs theater.

EvilEddMarch 3rd 2009.

There has to be a balance. I love theatre, but I have been going to the Unity less often with there being so many productions I've wanted to see at The Everyman and Playhouse. That being said, if it was mainly to be a comedy venue and a stage for fringe theatre, it could have a real place in our city. Obviously rent isn't the only running cost; but if it was hired out to small theatre companies, the rent at least could easily be covered.

Stranded StarfishMarch 3rd 2009.

'Theatrical Farce' - well done, just what this debate needs, a totally impotent pun.

Chucky r laMarch 3rd 2009.

Stranded starfish: I don't think you understand what a pun is. Impotent, virile or not.

CinderellaMarch 3rd 2009.

The poor old Neptune is just another victim of everything in this city that is wrong. The stupid council, crying over spending a few extra bob in rent, will now end up paying more. It's not a farce Laz, it is a tragedy. They should all exit stage left, right and centre.

Well a woman I met on the bus onceMarch 3rd 2009.

the people on the streets begging or with drug or alcohol problems or doing a Big Issue "my last copy" scam make up a small fraction of homelessness statistics. Those sob stiries are the primary homelessness reasons recorded by Local Authority housing applications and no doubt reposession will and is due to make a big comeback thanks to our banks. But if you would rather believe a Herion addixt who would naturally meet up with that limited category of people, so be it. Lets hope your job and your health and your family life stays safe secure and healthy. Anyway get some bleedin work done instead of messing about on here, is this on company time?

Anne JobbMarch 3rd 2009.

Indeed! Fooled me to!

Liverpool WagMarch 3rd 2009.

Is right you know.

Yan King OffMarch 3rd 2009.

Shouldn't that be you scampi! if we're talking about bait?

Stropping the MulliganMarch 3rd 2009.

We need more theatres and fewer hostels for intoxicated beggars with Southern accents, thank you very much. Let them go to Manchester instead.

WarriorMarch 3rd 2009.

This problem has gone on for years.Maybe peeps on here should slag off the Labour administration years ago that put the theatre in the ownership it has now. The problem with this place it requres a lot of money to be spent bringing it into the 21st Century so far as adaptions is concerned,and old buildgings like this are very difficult to adapt and it could end up costing lots more money than is set aside now. All those bodies on here who want to save premises like this always moan ,but never come up with any ideas where the money will come from.

I thought culture was about theatresMarch 3rd 2009.

The deep deep irony here is that the completely incompetent council have given any money they did have to pay off the people whose appointments they bungled in the first place and then had to get shut of. In culture year. What a laugh.

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