“I had this lovely brown leather coat. I treasured it,” Gemma Bodinetz is telling SevenStreets, in the best way she can, about this week’s hotly anticipated Everyman rebirth.

rsz_photo-37And it starts at the dry cleaners.

“The problem was, I just saw it the way it used to be. I couldn’t see past the miasma of love and memories…”

“We share dry cleaners,” Deborah Aydon, Bodinetz’ EverymanPlayhouse co-star interjects (Aydon is Executive- to Bodinetz’ Artistic-Director.)

“He took me to one side, one day, and told me to have a word with Gemma. Tell her her coat had seen one too many first nights…” Aydon purrs, gleefully.

“To me, it was as beautiful as it always was. But, in reality, it was ready for the knacker’s yard…” Bodinetz concedes.

The dry-cleaner as intermediary and confidante. The Third Man. SevenStreets wondered about the real balance of power behind the double act that’s staged 38 world premieres over ten years. Who really wields the big stick? Little did we know it was the man at Johnson’s.

And so it was that Bodinetz and Aydon looked at the Everyman afresh, and hatched their plans for the theatre’s £28million rebuild.

“Those of us who loved the old Everyman, like me, couldn’t actually see past the premieres and the amazing performances we’ve witnessed here,” Bodinetz says, “but others saw it as it was. Saw that you needed a ladder to get on stage, that the chairs were ripped, and there were holes in the ceiling.”

And yet… visit the Everyman when it flings open its swish new Hope Street doors this weekend, and you’ll feel like the old girl’s just returned from a particularly good pampering session at Herberts. Her bone structure is still, noticeably, in place. This is still the Everyman.

Maybe Gemma was hasty with that coat. She could have had it upcycled.

Everyman 2.0 is a confident, artist-friendly space, with a heck of a lot of fancy-pants fly wires for Panto shenanigans, bright new workshop rooms, studios for the Young Everyman and Playhouse company, cosy writers’ rooms lined with Pinter scripts, and a fully kitted out ‘thrust-style’ auditorium seating 400.

The seats look like you could do a full King Lear and still feel the blood in your bottom. And there’s a new balcony and, seemingly, bars everywhere. And toilets. It is, in short, another sure-footed Bodinetz-Aydon production. Maybe not a premiere, more an audacious reimagining of much-loved classic.

How could it not open with anything but Twelfth Night?

“Yes, it’s new, but I hope it retains the essence of what it was,” says Bodinetz, as we take a tour of the new auditorium, rebuilt with 25,000 bricks, salvaged when the original Victorian chapel shell was knocked down.

The striking new building – with its roll call of ‘everymen and women’ raised above its Hope Street entrance – has been designed by Haworth Tompkins Architects, with funding from Arts Council England, the European Regional Development Fund, and Liverpool City Council.

And boy have they been clever.

Because we fancy ourselves as media types, we’ve had a tour backstage. Honestly, we could bore the pants off you with talk of the new lighting grid, the clever use of mezzanine spaces and the green room’s fancy facilities. But, really, who gives a Tom Stoppard about all that? The play’s the thing.

“We’ve all seen what culture can mean as a catalyst,” says Deborah Aydon. “To open a multi-million pound new arts space in a city that’s tight for cash is a really brave statement of intent, and one we should be proud of. But we’ve crunched the numbers, and the uplift we give to the city’s hotels, bars and restaurants is impressive…”

“But it’s more than that,” adds Bodinetz, “It’s the feel good factor, the fact that people can feel proud, that we trigger their imaginations. None of this can be measured against a bottom line, but it’s just as important.”

But with a £28 million price tag, does the new Everyman comes with strings attached? Is there a greater need to recoup those costs with a summer full of Ayckbourn and Bennett?

“Not really,” Gemma says. “You have to go into it full bloodedly, thinking is this forward thinking, not sentimental. Does it carry something of the renegade spirit and ambition of the Everyman. You’re holding the past and trying to find things for the future. Find things that feel right for the city, and the time.”

SevenStreets glances towards Aydon. She nods. Phew.

“It’s been easy for us, we have the same taste; the same instincts,” Aydon says of the partnership. “We both have understanding of each other’s preoccupations.

“It’s all about making the business end stack up so that the artistic side of the business can get on and do what it does best.”

“But we can body swap,” Bodinetz laughs, “Sometimes Deborah’s trying to talk me into doing something really really dangerous and I’m the one going ‘what about the bottom line?’”

“We love theatre,” Bodinetz says, “It simply has to survive. But there has to be pragmatism and dare involved. Too much of one or the other, and it’s game over.”

With Aydon and Bodinetz at the helm, you get the feeling it’s only just begun.

On Saturday, start the Everyman Lights UP parade from the Playhouse at 6.30pm, join the route which weaves from Church Street to Bold Street, Leece Street to Rodney Street) or meet outside the Everyman for 7.45pm to celebrate lighting up the new theatre with Liverpool Lantern Company. Keep your powder dry, because on Sunday they’re opening at 11am – for tours and a chance to sample the beers and bistro. The opening show, Twelfth Night, starts 8 March.

Hope Street