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FEATURE: Hope springs eternal in Liverpool’s independent theatre scene

There can surely be few streets in the UK more impressive in its dazzling array of theatres, concert halls and bars than Liverpool’s Hope Street. In addition to the much loved Everyman Theatre and the Philharmonic Hall, a new independent theatre, appropriately named the Hope Street Theatre has opened in the City’s Masonic Hall. In full view of the Everyman, The Hope Street Theatre has in less than three months since it opened had a substantial impact on Liverpool’s independent theatre scene. The run of the company’s first in-house production, Closer by Patrick Marber, sold out and received glowing reviews. Artists from Liverpool, the North West and further beyond are now approaching The Hope Street Theatre keen to perform in its 120 seat intimate studio theatre space.

The Hope Street Theatre has been set up by Liverpool actor and director, Sam Donovan and producer Nick Rogers, to provide a base for grassroots theatre companies on Merseyside to showcase their work. A graduate of ALRA, Donovan who is also the venue’s Artistic Director is a passionate supporter of emerging theatre and is a co-founder of Papatango Theatre Company which runs the UK’s leading annual playwrighting competition. In a bold and ambitious move Donovan and Rogers, the venue’s Chief Executive, have signed a long-term lease on the Masonic Hall’s Grand Lodge room and hope to emulate the success of the similarly named Hope Mill Theatre in nearby Manchester.

Ellie Hurt and Sarah Van Parys (c) AB Photography

Supporting Donovan to establish The Hope Street Theatre is proud Liverpudlian actor and director, John Roberts. In charge of the venue’s press and marketing, Roberts with his years of experience working on the City’s fringe scene and running our very own arts website The Reviews Hub, is ideally placed to bring The Hope Street Theatre to the attention of Liverpool audiences and theatre-makers. Operating an open door policy, Roberts and the team are keen to invite theatre-makers to work with Hope Street Theatre, “If we have the space and availability we can programme anyone who wants to perform here. We’re keen to work with young professionals who are ready to jump onto the next rung on their career ladder. Recently Ellie Hurt and Sarah Van Parys, two of Liverpool’s most exciting young professional directors have had their shows performed here and are now going on to work at prestigious venues such as The Hampstead Theatre and The National Theatre. Sam, Nick and I want this to be the place where people from the Everyman, The Unity, The Epstein and other regional theatres come and see the work of exciting young directors and actors and say to them, we would love you to come and work in our spaces and take your work to the next level.”

Nick Rogers, Sam Donovan & John Robers with Joe McGann at The Hope Street Theatre launch (c) AB Photography

Roberts, Donovan and Rogers believe that The Hope Street Theatre can make a significant contribution to Liverpool’s cultural offer. Roberts is very clear about how they can do this, “What we found when we were setting up the theatre was that there was a real desire for us to be here in the City. We spoke to all the local theatres to make sure that nobody felt that we were stepping on their toes and overall everyone has been very supportive. We can provide a different level to what is going on in the City and introduce the bigger venues to some amazing creative’s who might not ordinarily be seen when they are casting and putting shows together. When we opened the venue in September most of the Artistic Directors and marketing departments from the City’s venues came to find out what was going on and it felt for once as if Liverpool was fully connected and of course we would like to see this continue as we move forward.”

In addition to the use of The Hope Street Theatre’s rehearsal rooms and the performance space, theatre professionals can benefit in many different ways as Roberts explains, “We run various schemes. One is for Associate Producers, who can come on board with us to work on our in-house shows. We are also working with technical theatre students from LIPA and other institutions to give them paid experience of working in a professional theatre. We can mentor companies giving them advice about marketing and publicity. Most companies perform here on a hire basis from a Wednesday to a Saturday, we can give them the space on Tuesday completely free to do their tech with full support and explore the space in any way they want. We’re currently subsidising this at a cost to the theatre, on the condition that for their first performance to an audience is a, Pay What You Decide event. We want the companies to do this so that they can get honest feedback from the audience. If the audience feel that their expectations were met or went above they are encouraged to pay the full ticket price or more, and obviously less so if not. It’s great for the company as the feedback is instant and they can incorporate it into their shows for the rest of their run with us or use it to challenge the way they produce shows in the future”

With the enthusiastic support of audiences and artists alike, The Hope Street Theatre can already confidently claim to be an established part of Liverpool’s theatrical landscape. With plans to stage more in-house shows including an annual musical, The Hope Street Theatre clearly has a lot going for it and is providing audiences and creatives with exactly what they want. The venue already has programming booked in as far as September 2019 with a range of homegrown and guest productions. For all of December, The Hope Street Theatre is hosting Drops of Light’s Christmas show, Aladdin, the hotly anticipated follow up to last year’s successful Beauty and The Beast.

In less than three months over 5,000 people have come through the doors of The Hope Street Theatre to see work performed by 20 different companies that have produced some of the most thought-provoking and exciting productions that the Liverpool theatre scene has witnessed this year. In time Roberts hopes that The Hope Street Theatre will become Liverpool’s answer to Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre and based on their great start it would appear that he, Donovan and Rogers are already well on course to achieving this and much more besides.

To find out what is on Hope Street Theatre and to contact the theatre’s management team visit www.hopestreettheatre.com

Richard Hall | Image: L1Photography

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The Reviews Hub

The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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