It is now just a matter of weeks until the new Everyman opens its doors to an eager public, awaiting a first glimpse into the new theatre space (and bistro, natch). Has it really been nearly three years since crowds filled Hope Street to watch it close, to be – gulp – demolished and completely rebuilt?
At the time, it was quite heart-breaking. But soon enough, that gloom turned to hope; then excitement, and now… now we’re here, on the eve of a new beginning for a much-loved old haunt.
In 2014 things might be more state-of-the-art than DIY as they were in the Seventies, but the Everyman will be as dedicated to seeking out and supporting new blood as it ever was; the new premises will contain a whole independent part of the building that members of YEP [Young Everyman and Playhouse] will be able to access any time, day or night.
“Liverpool is a hugely theatrical and supportive city, and the creativity of the city’s young people is something quite brilliant.
“They are constantly inventive, as well as absolutely fearless,” says Matt Rutter, the director of YEP; audiences may also recognise him as one third of comic performers Big Wow. A graduate of Hope University, he came to the city from Cumbria and never left.
As YEP, the youth theatre arm of the Everyman (and Playhouse) has ballooned, incorporating the talents of not only young actors and writers as it always has, but reaching out to technicians, producers, directors, and communicators to market their own productions. Appealing to young people from all backgrounds, all these elements came together when the company devised their biggest production to date, promenade piece Papertown at Camp and Furnace, in 2012. But the group will finally have a permanent home in the Everyman, and they are currently developing a new piece called The Grid to be performed there in April.
“It’s a massive challenge embedding young people across the theatres and pushing them to develop themselves as much as possible,” Matt adds.
That’s something not lost on Lewis Bray, 23, one of the most recognisable faces of YEP, and also known for his work with improvised comedy group Impropriety and Spike Theatre.
The Wirral-based actor is devising his own show that will be performed in July. Cartoonopolis, inspired by life growing up with his severely autistic brother, has been made possible by the Everyman and Playhouse’s Talent Fund – which is how the theatres are now using the cash regularly donated by supporters who signed up to make contributions initially towards the completion of the new building.
“To me, the Everyman is a community of people that are all working together to bring theatre to Liverpool that challenges and entertains,” he says. “It has allowed me to develop in a professional environment where people are constantly striving to excel themselves, which makes me feel that I can do that too. There is just a buzz about it you don’t feel in many other cities.”
It’s something that resonates with London-born Joe Ward Munrow, who came to Liverpool to study drama and never went back. The playwright, director and stand up joined the Everyman Young Writers’ programme in 2010 and his first play, Held, was produced at the Playhouse Studio two years later. He can be found co-running and hosting a comedy night at Maguire’s Bar on Renshaw Street every third Monday of the month.
“I was bowled over by the passion and quality of the young writers programme course and the people who led it. The course is the sole reason I became a playwright,” he says.
“Held was obviously a massive project and opportunity for me. I think the production demonstrated what the Everyman and Playhouse stands for, nurturing new voices from the city but also, and more crucially, following through and backing those voices professionally. I consider myself extremely lucky to be in an area of the country that actively seeks out, supports and produces new playwrights.”
In large part, that means Lindsay Rodden, who after joining the theatre as a part time assistant in 2008 today heads up the literary department. As the Everyman and Playhouse’s literary associate, and as a dramaturg, she works with writers to help develop their plays and commissions the work audiences see on stage.
“I started going to the Everyman when I was teenager and I even became a young writer at about 16,” she says. “In those days they gave us little laminated cards with our names on which we could present to box office to get free or cheap tickets to the shows – that was it, I was hooked.
“When I started working in theatre I always knew that I wanted to work at the Everyman.”
“It’s the theatre I grew up with, I remember seeing early plays by writers like Abi Morgan and Jonathan Harvey and just being inspired to have a go and get involved myself,” says Gemma Kerr, who also had a spell as a young writer and recalls getting a number of her “terrible teenage plays” performed there.
Gemma, 33, now works in London as a freelance director and theatre-maker and is a co-founder of High Hearted, a company with a remit of creating original work for non-conventional spaces, with an emphasis on narrative and new writing. “Our shows explore the relationship between the performer, the audience and the space in which the work happens,” she says. She will be directing a promenade production of Macbeth in London this spring, and most recently returned home to bring Cheer Up, This is Only the Beginning to the Everyword festival.
Director, DJ and father-to-be Matthew Xia offers a different perspective, coming to Liverpool after already chalking up a very impressive CV in some of London’s best known theatres. The 31-year-old recently completed the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme, the alumni of which have included Rupert Goold, Vicky Featherstone, Ken Loach and Adrian Noble. “When I saw that the Everyman and Playhouse were host venues I instantly applied,” he says.
He is currently back at the Young Vic directing the acclaimed Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead – it comes to Liverpool later in the year and he says he wouldn’t miss the re-opening of the Everyman for the world.
“As a new Liverpool resident and as a theatre maker in the North West, [it] really helped continue to define who I am and the work I wish to make,” he says. “I love the vibrancy of the arts scene here – I initially found it hard to find the edgier, avant-garde performances but a quick wander into Camp and Furnace or the Kazimier addressed that concern. I had the privilege of directing the world premiere of Scrappers by Daniel Matthew at the Playhouse Studio and had my belief that new writers must be locally sourced and nurtured confirmed.”
The Everyman took Luke Barnes from behind the scenes to behind The Wall – you may recognise him as a supporting cast member of Game of Thrones’ Black Watch. The 26 year old, from Formby, became a writer-on-attachment at the Everyman in 2011. His first play, Chapel Street, was performed as part of the theatre’s Everyword new writing festival that year. “I’ve been photocopying plays without them knowing ever since,” he deadpans. “This theatre is the building that has inspired the imagination and hearts of my family for generations, it is the life blood of this city’s cultural ambition,” he says. “The people of this city deserve national and international standard work and I’m proud to be associated, in whatever small way I am, with the building that is providing it.”
Lindsay Rodden agrees. “It’s hard to describe what a privilege it is to work here in anticipation of opening the doors of the building to the city,” she says. “The building already has a character of its own, it’s a thing of wonder really, but it will only truly to come to life when there are people in it – actors, writers, musicians, technicians, dancers, artists, mums and dads, school kids and grannies and dreamers and thinkers… It’s up to all of us to breathe life into it – everyone in the city and beyond. I can’t wait for the first show of course, and for the neon sign to light up. But I think the best moments will be things we can’t really predict – a lightning flash of inspiration in the writers’ room, a chance meeting of like minds, a singsong in the bar… who knows?”
The new Everyman will open, as it closed – with an event in the streets on March 1, and an open house the following day to finally let its public inside the new building. Its first production, Twelfth Night, opens on Saturday, March 8.
Main pics: Pete Carr