Liverpool’s Epstein theatre gears up to mark its 100th anniversary

One of Liverpool’s cultural jewels will celebrate its 100th birthday this  year and a weekend of events is planned to honour the centenary.

The Epstein theatre has undergone several name-changes during its chequered  history and nobody really knows the exact date of its anniversary.

But part of the Hanover Street theatre’s celebrations will include a  weekend-long event around the time of Brian Epstein’s birthday on September  19.

General manager Rebekah Pichilingi summed up the ethos of the Epstein: “We’re  trying to embrace the history of the theatre but also to move on to represent  the changing face of the city.”

The theatre has been the cornerstone of the city’s amateur dramatics scene  and hosted touring companies, live music and stand-up comedy shows. All this  earned it the name of the “people’s theatre.”

The former Neptune theatre has hosted a litany of famous – and soon-to-be  famous – faces during its century of hosting shows.

They include Sylvia Syms, Lenny Henry, Jenny Agutter, Jean Boht and Paul  O’Grady as Lily Savage. A young Heidi Range – who was later to join The  Sugababes – also starred in a children’s pantomime.

Rebekah is the latest in a sequence of female managers of the theatre,  stretching back over its whole history from when it was re-named the Neptune - in homage to the city’s maritime heritage - in 1967.

Teresa Collard, who managed the theatre until 1973 and now lives in Milton  Keynes, has a rich fund of anecdotes from her five-and-a-half years in charge,  including giving actor David Yip his first job as a stage-hand.

She said: “I used to run monthly art exhibitions, including showing (former  Beatle) Stuart Sutcliffe’s work, and I also started the Neptune Theatre Company  which featured future Brookside actors such as Sue Johnstone and Dean Sullivan.  We had some marvellous people and I just loved the theatre.”

The Epstein started life in 1913 as Crane’s Music Hall, so-called because it  was built above one of the largest music stores in the North, owned by the Crane  Brothers.

Amateur groups put on performances in the music hall upstairs, and it became  known as Crane’s Theatre in 1938. It was renamed the Neptune after Liverpool  Corporation bought the building in 1967.

But in 2005, the venue was mothballed because it needed massive  refurbishment, which then became bogged down in a row between Liverpool city  council and leaseholders Hanover Estate Management over the cost of rent. It  stayed closed for seven years until its re-opening last year after a £1m  refurbishment, under its new name the Epstein. This was in recognition of the  fact that the Beatles manager worked in the building when it was Crane’s Music  Hall, selling records and instruments.

The theatre is searching for archive material for a planned display. Email  rebekah@epsteinliverpool.co.uk

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Date created: March 21, 2013

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