Agreement reached for Neptune Theatre revamp

Michael Hunt

Liverpool City Council and the landlord of the city's Neptune Theatre have reached an agreement on a £700,000 refurbishment to the interior of the building.

Doors closed on the Grade II-listed venue five years ago due to health and safety reasons but following talks between Cllr Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, and landlord David Ramsey, of Hanover Estates, builders could begin within the month to upgrade the 97-year-old theatre, with new shows potentially starting once again by summer next year.

Acquired by Liverpool Corporation in 1967, the theatre, which is based in Hanover House on Hanover Street in the city centre, shut in June 2005 with necessary works to be addressed in a refurbishment of the theatre.

Liverpool City Council had ring-fenced £700,000 to carry out the works which includes a complete overhaul of the electrics and making the venue accessible to disabled people. The theatre was due to open in time for the city's year as European Capital of Culture 2008 until a legal disagreement over the terms of the renewal of the council's lease stalled the job.

Cllr Anderson made the re-opening of the city centre theatre one of his priorities when he became the new leader of the council in May and has now personally agreed terms with Ramsey to ensure the redevelopment could begin.

Liverpool City Council estimates renovations to begin by the end of August. The council also said it will be inviting expressions of interest from parties with appropriate experience to run and manage the theatre and hope to appoint an operator in the new year.

Cllr Anderson said: "It's been nothing short of a travesty for Liverpool that the Neptune Theatre has been in mothballs these past five years.

"The Neptune was a vital stepping stone in Liverpool's comedy and theatre land, providing countless people of all ages down the years with their first experience of performing at a major city centre venue.

"Until recently it was a much used venue for community groups across the city with a well established niche for comedy acts and its absence has been sorely felt by performers and audiences alike.

"I'm delighted we've been able to agree terms over building consent and can now forge ahead with bringing back to life one of our most important cultural jewels."

As part of the agreement, the council said independent surveyors will now re-assess the length of the lease of Hanover House which Ramsey has from the city council for the next 38 years.

Ramsey, who performed at the Neptune as a boy and has managed Hanover House since 1985, said: "This agreement is fantastic news and pleased that Cllr Anderson has taken the initiative to resolve some of the issues holding this redevelopment back.

"I have a deep personal affection for this theatre and have great childhood memories. No one will be happier than me on the day it re-opens."

Liverpool City Council owns the freehold to the entire building and rented it to Hanover Estates before the council then rented the theatre element back from Hanover.

The Neptune Theatre originally opened as Crane's Music Hall in 1913 before Liverpool Corporation renamed the venue in 1967 to reflect the city's maritime heritage. Liverpool City Council officially dedicated the theatre to the memory of Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, in 1997.

The final professional production staged at the Neptune Theatre was The Keith Barrett Show, performed by comedian Rob Brydon, on 30 May 2005, before the venue closed on 3 June.

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Fantastic news! Happy memories of seeing Charlie Chuck there! And performing with the Liverpool Theatre School when I was little! Nice to see Liverpool is keeping a bit of its soul!

By Secret Squirrel

Look forward to seeing a few stand-up gigs there if/when the reopening actually takes place.

PS) Does anyone reading this remember a Neptune Theatre performance of a show/monologue in early 2000s about a chap going on a birdwatching holiday (to Bulgaria?) with his dad? He finished off with a recital of the entire list of 100+ birds that all the birdwatchers were endeavouring to spot. I’d love to know the name of the guy whose show it was!

By Ben