Can anyone save the Epstein?
One of Liverpool’s most storied theatres prays for a white knight. Plus: Wirral asylum seeker barge plans scrapped after massive backlash
Dear readers — welcome to our Monday briefing.
The Epstein Theatre in Hanover House has 110 years of history. Beatles manager Brian Epstein — after whom it was renamed in 2011 upon reopening — performed there as a child. But as of the end of this month, that’s all set to end. A complicated financial agreement (we see plenty of those around here) between the council, the building’s landlord and the operators is no longer deemed sustainable. We’ll unpack it all below.
We hope you enjoyed Abi’s twisting, turning tale of secretive art societies (contactable by smoke signal) and disappearing Banksys at the weekend. In fact we know you did, because it drew so many lovely comments. If you missed that one, do catch up below. Here’s what people said:
“Lovely writing, a pleasure to read. Welcome. I look forward to more.”
“It’s so refreshing to see The Post writing about Liverpool and actually investigating the story.”
“This article summaries the epitome of the phrase ‘Why can’t we have nice things.’”
Last week paying Post members received two great pieces. Jack returned to familiar territory — the murky world of internal Labour politics — to interrogate The Battle of Birkenhead: where the Corbynite left believe the party’s national leadership are trying to unseat a socialist MP. One expelled former councillor told us she had “endured three years of harassment” in the party. We also served up Kenn Taylor’s review of Photieman — the Walker’s celebration of the legendary photographer Tom Wood. “What a great piece. Will make an effort to get into town, not somewhere I go often, to see,” wrote one happy commenter. Here’s a taster.
“Surrounded by the varied images of the exhibition, some words keep coming back. Words like strength and dignity. Humour too, his work isn’t po-faced, nor overly sentimental. Wood’s images are inherently about the variety and commonality of the human experience. Youth and age. Passion and boredom. Waiting for a bus or to be served a hotdog made epic.”
Editor’s note: It was great to see the positive reaction to Abi’s weekend read. Adding a new member of staff to The Post feels like a real turning point for us. Now that we have more staff, we’re hoping to be able to add lots of exciting things to our repertoire, in-person events for example, as well as taking on more large-scale reporting projects. If you’re not already, please consider becoming a member today. And thank you to all of our 15,000+ family for your continued support.
This week’s weather
Monday ⛅ Weather warnings issued. Sunny intervals and light winds with highs of 29°C
Tuesday ☀️ Sunny and a gentle breeze with highs of 28°C
Wednesday ☀️ Sunny and a gentle breeze with highs of 27°C
Thursday ☀️ Sunny and a gentle breeze with highs of 26°C
Friday ☀️ Sunny and a gentle breeze with highs of 26°C
Weekend 🌦️ Sunny and a gentle breeze and light rain showers on Sunday. Highs of 26°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
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We’re looking to speak to people from in and around Liverpool about the effects of gambling for a piece we’re writing. As always, with topics like this we are happy to keep you off the record — please drop Abi an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s fire at the ABC Cinema got us thinking about the building. Is it Liverpool’s most prominent disused building? And what can be done about it? Any information, tips or opinions — send to email@example.com.
The big story: Can anyone save the Epstein?
Top line: The Epstein — one of Liverpool’s oldest and most storied theatres — will be shutting its doors this month after financial support from the council ends.
Context: The Epstein has been one of Liverpool’s most prominent arts venues since it opened in 2013. But recent decades have brought financial struggle. A firm called Epstein Entertainments has run the theatre since 2018, with the aid of council funding. Much of the issue appears to be down to the complicated and unusual leasehold situation. While the council holds the freehold, it gave the leasehold to a man called David Ramsey in the 1980s (amid financial pressure). Then, in 2011, it took out a lease to sublet the building at a cost of £100,000 a year after it had closed down.
The latest: Financial cuts to the council have meant it no longer sees this deal as viable, and it will be pulling its funding this month. Epstein Entertainments apparently — who are unable to meet the landlord’s rent demands — asked the authority for £50,000 a year instead for the next five years, but this was rejected. Local opposition parties have suggested the council is to blame (the Liverpool Community Independents asked why £100,000 was “unsustainable” when millions had been written off in bad debt and after the energy bill fiasco) but the council maintains their hands are tied.
Catch-22: As Chantelle Nolan, artistic and operations director at Epstein Entertainments, told BBC Merseyside: "It is a kind of catch-22 because whoever is running the theatre hasn't got a lease [and] you can't apply for Arts Council funding so it is a vicious circle.” Harry Doyle, the council’s cabinet member for culture, explained the situation in detail, and added this:
“We are working hard to ensure every penny of taxpayers money spent represents Best Value, whilst also protecting frontline services. Acting as a middle man between a landlord and a private limited company, no matter how great it is, is not sustainable.”
Similar deals were common in Liverpool in the 80s and 90s, especially in the Ropewalks where the Epstein is situated. Most notably perhaps was the notorious Charterhouse deal, when — short of cash — the council sold an estate of 309 properties to a firm called Charterhouse. When Charterhouse collapsed, property magnate Max Stone stepped in with his company Frenson and bought the estate for way below its value at £5 million.
Such deals now appear unfortunate, but the misfortune doesn’t end there. Between 2016 and 2017 a former assistant manager at the theatre, Kevin Lloyd, stole £273,000 from it.
Lloyd was jailed but his theft caused huge financial strain, putting the Epstein into administration. It was at that point when Epstein Entertainments took charge.
Post readers will know about the latest iteration of the Epstein — we published an in-depth feature on the history of the theatre in February last year.
In 1968 it became the Neptune, apparently a nod to Liverpool’s links to the sea. “Why is it called Neptune if it isn’t underground?” a bemused Loudon Wainwright once questioned of his venue for the evening.
Naming the theatre after Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 2011 was called a “wonderful homage” by Epstein’s family. In his lifetime, Epstein had attended performances there, and had even performed on the stage himself in a 1956 production of Guy Bolton’s Larger Than Life.
On Twitter the theatre’s manager — Bill Elms — appeared to express frustration at the lack of support from the local authority. He thanked metro mayor Steve Rotheram for being “the only” local politician to meet the Epstein’s team, implying no one at the city council had.
ENo-go: Those waiting with baited breath for the English National Opera’s announcement of a three city shortlist ahead of its relocation north will have noticed that no such shortlist arrived in time for the end of May, when it was originally expected. We covered the ENO situation in-depth here, but those who think the opera moving to Liverpool could save the Epstein are wide of the mark — the stage is far too small for large scale opera. If a saviour is to step in, they’ll have to be found elsewhere. With any luck, the theatre’s white knight will be reading this newsletter.
Your Post briefing
Plans to house asylum seekers on a barge on the Mersey have been axed. The proposal to accommodate 1000 people in Wirral, which drew huge backlash, will no longer go ahead. Local MPs had been vocal about their opposition to the plans, with the MP for Wallasey Dame Angela Eagle saying the boat was "never a viable humane plan", and the wider region "already looks after a higher-than-average number of asylum seekers and refugees". Meanwhile, the plan to house 500 refugees on the Bibby Stockholm — a huge boat owned by Liverpool-based Bibby Marine — is going ahead. The vessel will be docked in Portland Port in Dorset this month. The Post recently published a piece about the controversial scheme, investigating the cramped conditions and health concerns for people onboard.
The man accused of shooting Elle Edwards outside a pub in Wallasey is due to go on trial today charged with her murder. Connor Chapman, 23, is alleged to have shot Edwards outside the Lighthouse pub on Christmas Eve. Merseyside Police issued a statement last year saying Edwards was not the intended target of the shooting, with a further four people also injured in the attack. Chapman has pleaded not guilty to all charges, with his trial set to begin at 2pm today.
The furious Battle of the Breastaurant between Liverpool City Council (LCC) and Hooters escalated this weekend after the restaurant put tables and chairs outside their New Zealand House venue — with the council ordering that they be removed immediately. Hooters first found itself at loggerheads with the council in April this year, after the restaurant illegally mounted illuminated signs outside their restaurant on Water Street. After the restaurant failed to take them down, LCC revealed they were going to take Hooters to court over the glowing signs, with an appeal launched by Hooters now dismissed.
Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries has announced she is standing down as an MP, after “something significant” happened over the weekend. Dorries, who is from Liverpool, would not reveal the reason she decided to stand down, with many speculating that it was in connection to former prime minister Boris Johnson quitting as an MP on Friday. In an interview with Talk TV, Dorries said: "I think I've been carrying a degree of guilt since I stood down as secretary of state. I think I possibly, maybe I should have stood down [as an MP] then."
🎹The Africa Oye Festival returns to Sefton Park this weekend, with two days of music, workshops, DJs and food stalls. Enjoy music from Alogte Oho & his Sounds of Joy, Grupo Lokito, Soukustek and many more on the 31st annual celebration of African music and culture. The event is free to enter on both days. Check out the full line up here.
☀️Arts Bar on Hope Street is celebrating the summer solstice this Saturday with a whole host of workshops and yoga sessions. Why not try their somatic meditation session? Or, if you have trouble sleeping, yoga nidra might be an ideal fix. Find out more about the mini-retreat here, or buy a ticket here.
🎸Acclaimed south London musician King Krule heads to Invisible Wind Factory on Tuesday for the launch of his new album, Space Heavy. Bringing with him his signature blend of punk jazz and darkwave, this one is perfect for fans of Billy Bragg and Cocteau Twins. Doors open at 7.30pm and tickets are available here.
🎭Comedian Phil Wang brings his new stand-up show to Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall this Sunday. As a Taskmaster favourite with a whole host of Live at the Apollo’s under his belt, Wang is sure to provide a laugh a minute with his irreverent comedy dissecting morality and his sense of self. The show starts at 7.30pm, with tickets available for £22. Take a look here.
Home of the week
This Grade II listed cottage in Westvale is now on the market for £249,950. The cottage, which dates back to approximately 1871, is built in a conservation area inside St Chad’s Park. It has three bedrooms, a generous cellar and a new boiler that was installed in the property just two years ago. The cottage may be in need of a little TLC inside to bring it into the 21st century, but with the right touch it could make a wonderful family home. Find out more here.
Our favourite reads
The Guardian asks whether taller is always really better when it comes to cities, making the case for a Parisian-style focus on quality of life and ecological sustainability over London’s madcap multistory mayhem. It’s a debate common to Liverpool, with many who would surely disagree: believing the city’s unwillingness to reach for the skies denotes a troublesome lack of ambition. Chief among them, the folk over at Liverpolitan, proud champions of a bolder, and taller Liverpool. Their latest piece, touching on co-founder Michael McDonough’s grand fantasies of “outlandish opera houses, cathedral-like train stations, gothic bridges” dotted across the city makes an interesting companion/counter-argument to The Guardian.
“We will find a way to get it done,” says John Bernad of Bernard’s Bicycles in this podcast clip from The Critical Friend. Bernard’s Bicycles — located on Smithdown Road — is a bike shop, sure, but it’s more than that: an almost spiritual place, where repairing a bike is akin to art. When Bernard says he’ll “find a way to get it done” he’s referring to growing up in Africa where resourcefulness, finding a solution with whatever tools were in front of you, was essential to life. The full interview will be part of an upcoming episode of The Critical Friend’s podcast, which Jack will be featuring on too — so ears peeled for that.
Liverpool’s new Lib Dem leader Carl Cashman has experienced an…interesting, shall we say, first few weeks in the job. Though considered a highly talented rising star in Lib Dem politics, Cashman’s looks and physique have been the main talking point so far, with his door-knocking Twitter posts fetching millions of views and hundreds of comments showing their appreciation in no uncertain terms (many unpublishable, you’ll be glad to hear). The Echo found out what the man himself makes of it all, as well as asking a few questions about politics too, thankfully. “‘The online attention has been a bit strange, but mainly it's flattering," [Cashman] explains, adding: ‘Some of it goes a little bit far. I have had some strange unsolicited messages’”.
Letters from readers
Nice piece to wake up to today. Thank you Abi. Quite interesting and not surprised that we have been robbed of these art pieces. There’s always someone who just wants to make money off someone else’s talent, ‘What happened to Liverpool’s five Banksys?’, Carloyn Thornton
Nice article Abi. I loved the Love Plane mural and got to see it in place before it was removed. It is a shame that something Banksy did for the enjoyment of everybody was spoiled by the selfish greed of a few individuals, ‘What happened to Liverpool’s five Banksys?’, Stevo