A new management team is taking over the 108-year-old Epstein Theatre in Liverpool, which collapsed into administration in 2017 and has been closed due to COVID. Tony McDonough reports
Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre is to reopen for the first time since before the pandemic with a new management team taking it out of administration.
Formerly the Neptune Theatre and, before that, Crane’s Music Hall, the Hanover Street venue first opened in 1913 at the end of the music hall era. It collapsed into administration in 2017.
It continued to operate under the control of administrators before being forced to close early last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a new joint venture between Liverpool producers Bill Elms, Chantelle Nolan, and Jane Joseph called Epstein Entertainments will reopen the theatre.
Their plans already include a Christmas pantomime this festive season, which will be announced and on sale this week. The theatre will retain the same name and continue to run as a variety venue with a mixed programme of entertainment.
Bill Elms has more than 30 years’ experience in the entertainment industry, both regionally and nationally. He is director of arts PR company Bill Elms Associates, and a theatre producer under Bill Elms Productions.
His previous shows have included Jerry Springer – The Opera, Swan Song, Judy & Liza, and Something About Simon. Last year, he also created Liverpool Theatre Festival, of which he is artistic director. The festival has just enjoyed a successful second year. Bill will become the Epstein’s artistic and communications director.
Chantelle Nolan, who is currently general manager at St Helens Theatre Royal, will be the artistic and operations director. Along with her mother Jane Joseph, she is one half of Regal Entertainments which has run St Helens Theatre Royal for the past 20 years.
She also directs and produces St Helens’ three annual pantomimes. Regal Entertainments will now produce three in-house pantomimes a year at The Epstein Theatre. She once performed on the stage at the venue.
“I’m absolutely delighted to have been successful in the joint tender for the lease of The Epstein Theatre,” said Bill. “This is a venue I have loved with a passion for so many years and is one of Liverpool’s leading historical and cultural gems.
“We’ll be showcasing established favourites, revivals and new works, working with both local and national producers and production companies, and exploring some mid-scale UK tours that currently tend to bypass the city.”
The Epstein is a 380-seat proscenium arch theatre. It was originally opened as Crane’s Music Hall in 1913 and was a popular location for recitals and performances. It was renamed Crane Theatre in 1938.
In 1967 the theatre was purchased from the Cranes by Liverpool Corporation, who decided that it should be run by local people for local people and was named The Neptune Theatre. The Neptune also became a comedy club and, after many years of uncertainty about the future of the theatre, it eventually closed in 2005.
In July 2011, a £1m refurbishment of the theatre was completed which saw the Hanover Street venue brought up to 21st century standards and renamed The Epstein Theatre in honour of former Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
The opening season show at the venue was the premiere of Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, which was also produced by Bill Elms. Its former operator went into administration in December 2017 and has been run by administrators until now.
Chantelle added: “The Epstein holds a very special place in people’s hearts, myself included. My mother Jane produced the annual panto for many years in the theatre’s previous incarnation as The Neptune, and I appeared in her first show there as a child.
“Performing there helped fuel my love of theatre, but little could I have known then that I’d be running the venue one day. The Epstein has amazing potential, and we’re absolutely committed to presenting a quality programme.”