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Above – The street frontage of the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, UK. Image courtesy: Haworth Tompkins
Text: Philip Morris
What began as a dissenter’s chapel in 1837, The Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, UK has long been the beating heart at the centre of city’s cultural soul. In the shadow of The Beatles, the famous ‘Liverpool scene’ beat poets – Roger McGough, Brian Pattern and Adrian Henri – would meet here. It is a fertile site for communal creative activity where poets, artists, thinkers and musicians gather to conjure and create. The Everyman is for the people and they would say it is theirs.
The project, a £28m new theatre building, came on the back of 9 years of intensive teamwork, fundraising and design development, and has recently reopened to the public. The Everyman, though, is an institution. Its home, on Hope Street, the Georgian thoroughfare that bridges between Liverpool’s two cathedrals, sits on the city’s edge. The importance of this location, as an edge condition, predates the establishment of any theatre on the site. From the original Hope Hall, a public concert hall, it then became a cinema before manifesting as The Everyman in 1964. Its spirit and its sense of place within this famous port city of raconteurs has been a constant – it’s an essential part of the social urban fabric.
It’s from here, that architect Steve Tompkins began the task of rebuilding:
“We are interested in the idea of cultural memory. The place was extraordinarily valuable to the people of Liverpool. It had cultural value rather than physical value. The aim was to build a new building that would somehow encapsulate the values of the old institution. That’s not about sentimentality and nostalgia, in a sense it’s about a duty of care to the city and the community because it is so deeply embedded in the cultural psyche of Liverpool.”
Upon this sense of place and the spirit of number 13 Hope Street, there was talk of relocating the theatre to a more flexible site that was without constraint:
“There was a strong inclination towards moving the site of the building and combine it with the [nearby] Playhouse Theatre. We resisted that and argued the Everyman should be on the same site, because of this sense of cultural continuity.”
Gemma Bodinetz, Artistic Director of The Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, talks about the vision for the new theatre: “Our desire was to return to Liverpool a much loved theatre containing its original democratic and renegade spirit.”
With cultural memory comes the need for familiarity. The new 400-seat thrust stage theatre is constructed from the reclaimed brick of Hope Hall, which helps create a sense of acquaintance for the user and the new incarnation. There is an intimacy and unpretentiousness to the new main performance space that is both reminiscent of the old, but also effectively remodelled. Patrons welcomed back to their seats for the performances after three years of rebuilding felt at home, with a mixture of excitement and relief at the faithful restoration and reimagining.
The public spaces at the front of the building are a series of half levels: bars, bistros and vantage points, on the edge, looking down on Hope Street. The new building’s relationship and proximity to the street triumphantly offer vistas that are voyeuristic interludes. The sense of place that emboldens The Everyman owes everything to the wonderful Hope Street. It is a delight to wander in the foyer, sit in the bar or merely gaze upon the movement of the street that marks the edge of the city proper and beyond.
The building’s signature is the west-facing facade, which has been transformed into a public work of art incorporating 105 movable metal sunshades, each carrying a life-sized, water-cut portrait of a contemporary Liverpool resident. There are no famous faces, only real people. Every men and women, which is a fitting tribute to a building and a city with proud egalitarian principles. As Tompkins notes: “It’s for people who have loved the building and feel like they owned it. The facade is a pictorial representation of humanity. It has been owned and loved by the people of Liverpool in an usually intense way.”
The success of Haworth Tompkins’ newly restored Everyman owes everything to the understanding of the institution, its place and the people of Liverpool. It is a building for the people.