Liverpool’s Everyman theatre to raise its curtain again to find the next Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters and Bill Nighy

New incarnation of 400-seat theatre cost £28m after decade of planning and two years of work

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The Independent Culture

It helped launch the careers of acclaimed actors and writers, including Julie Walters, Jonathan Pryce and Willy Russell. Now Liverpool’s Everyman, described as embodying the “renegade and generous spirit of the city”, has been rebuilt for the 21st century to try and promote a new generation of stage stars.

The new Everyman will reopen on 1 March next year after a decade of planning and two years of work, costing £28m.

Today, artistic director Gemma Bodinetz announced the first season of work to be staged at the theatre.

She will direct the inaugural production of Twelfth Night,  starring Matthew Kelly – who played the original theatre in the 1970s – as Sir Toby Belch. That will be followed by a radical take on The Beggar’s Opera called Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and Other Love Songs) and a new work from the acclaimed Birkenhead playwright Michael Wynne.

Ms Bodinetz said: “We’ve taken the Everyman into the 21st century. It is cutting edge, but walking into it still feels earthy. We wanted it to still be idiosyncratic and not some genetically modified version of the old place.”

The new incarnation of the 400-seat theatre was designed by architects Haworth Tompkins. The practice has also designed the proposed revamp of the Bristol Old Vic and The Shed at the National Theatre.

The Everyman has a stylish new facade to replace the old low-key front. Some of the old bricks were recycled for use in the new building.

“I’ve been preparing for this since I first arrived. There was a plan sitting on my desk when I got there,” Ms Bodinetz said.

She joined the theatre in May 2003 shortly after the Liverpool Playhouse had merged with the Everyman, two distinct theatres in different parts of the city.

After consultations and feasibility studies, they decided to scrap ideas to merge the two on a larger site. Instead the plan was to start from scratch with a new Everyman .

“We decided to hold on to the things we loved about the old theatre and reincarnate them,” Ms Bodinetz said.

Pete Postlethwaite, David Morrissey, Cathy Tyson and Antony Sher all spent formative years on the Everyman stage.

One photo of the company in 1974 shows the extraordinary range of talent that would emerge: from Bill Nighy and Julie Walters to Matthew Kelly and Nicholas Le Prevost. It was taken by Jonathan Pryce.

There is no longer a company at the theatre but there is an “ extended family” of talent that is repeatedly rehired.

Ms Bodinetz said: “The wonder of that 1974 photo is that they weren’t famous then and how many went on to be. My duty is to find the next group.”

She said the venue had taught skills beyond acting, sometimes to young adults who had been excluded from school. 

“It’s not just about finding the next Pete Postlethwaite, which would be very nice. We’re also looking to find the next generation of theatre practitioners. Of artists and artisans.”

The class of ’74: Where are they now?

1) Nicholas Le Prevost

Established stage actor, he recently appeared at the National Theatre in Alan Bennett’s play People.

2) Kate Fahy

Theatre, film and stage  actress who married Jonathan Pryce after meeting him at the Everyman.

3) Julie Walters

The stage and screen star is known by many for the Harry Potter series and her work with Victoria Wood.

4) Matthew Kelly

Despite training as an actor, he made his name on TV show Stars in Their Eyes. Returned to acting and won an Olivier Award for Of Mice and Men.

5) Nick Woodeson

Woodeson has a prolific career in films and television. He started in ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and recently appeared in Skyfall

6) Bill Nighy

The prolific actor is particularly known for his work with Richard Curtis.

7) Roger Phillips

After acting in the West End and Liverpool, Phillips moved into broadcasting and presents a show on Radio Merseyside.

Photo by: Jonathan Pryce

Pryce, who went on to a  successful acting career, assembled the 1974  Everyman company.