LONDON - A £30m replica Shakespearean theatre in Merseyside has set its opening date for July, with plays by pupils who won a BBC competition to be staged first, before works by the Bard. The Shakespeare North Playhouse, in Prescot, is based on the 17th Century Cockpit theatre in London. An opening ceremony will take place on 15 July, followed by the first full on-stage performances in September.

Chief executive Melanie Lewis called it “a space that is for the people”.

Prescot is believed to have been the site of the only purpose-built Elizabethan theatre outside London, built in 1593.

No plans of the original have survived, so the new venue - which has been in the pipeline for the past 15 years is a replica of the Cockpit-in-Court, designed for Charles I by architect Inigo Jones at Whitehall Palace in 1629.

“It is a traditional Elizabethan hand-carved theatre put together with traditional methods,” Ms Lewis said. “There’s not a screw, there’s not a piece of glue, there’s not a nail. “It’s all held together with dowels and traditional carpentry methods. You’ve got 60 tonnes of English oak inside.” However, the 470-seat timber auditorium is surrounded by a modern building that also houses classrooms, a cafe, bar and shop. The opening ceremony, celebrating “local heroes”, will be an outdoor procession from the site of the original Prescot playhouse to the new venue, which will then be open that weekend for visitors to look inside. The first production on stage, on 9 and 10 September, will be created by the winners of the As You Write It playwriting competition, which was run with BBC One’s The One Show. Its three winners were Ruby, 15, from Lancashire; Rosie, 11, from Ayrshire; and Ana, 17, from Brighton - who have worked with professionals to complete their short dramas.

“They are the first things that are going to be on the stage and I think it’s important to set the tone,” Ms Lewis said. “This is about people learning their craft and this is about us enjoying and being inspired by Shakespeare to create new and wonderful things.” Later in September and in October, the venue will stage “a new take” on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which some believe was first performed at the wedding of the 6th Earl of Derby, who lived at nearby Knowsley Hall. The new production will be co-directed by Matthew Dunster, former associate director at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and rugby player turned actor and director Jimmy Fairhurst.