Anthony Holden, Founder Trustee of Shakespeare North Playhouse, sadly passed away in October 2023. His passion for creating a Playhouse in Prescot was unwavering and spanned decades. That support was integral to Shakespeare North Playhouse becoming a reality and we are extremely grateful for all that he contributed to the project.
Anthony was a celebrated writer, broadcaster and literary critic. He was one of Shakespeare’s most popular biographers. William Shakespeare; His Life and Work (William Shakespeare: The Man Behind The Genius in the US) was originally published in 1999 and republished in 2000 and 2016. He wrote more than forty books, including biographies of Laurence Olivier, King Charles III and Tchaikovsky. He also published translations of opera, ancient Greek plays and poetry. With his son Ben, he edited the bestselling anthologies Poems That Make Grown Men Cry and Poems That Make Grown Women Cry. Anthony was also an award-winning journalist and, among various roles in Fleet Street, served as Assistant Editor of The Times (1981–82), Executive Editor of Today (1985–86) and Chief Classical Music Critic of The Observer (2002–08).
Born in Southport, Lancashire, he was particularly interested in Shakespeare’s Lancastrian links and soon after the publication of his biography of The Bard during 1999, with academic Richard Wilson and theatre director David Thacker, Anthony began to explore ways of permanently celebrating these connections to the North. The links of the Earls of Derby with Shakespeare’s company, Lord Strange’s Men, made Knowsley the ideal place for this chapter of Shakespeare’s life to be celebrated, as research had proven that the first Elizabethan indoor theatre outside of London was built in Prescot. With a number of other like-minded Shakespearean experts, the idea of reinstating a Playhouse in the town was developed by Anthony.
The Shakespeare North Trust, the charity which delivers the Playhouse today, was created during 2004 and Anthony became a Founder Trustee. During the course of the next decade and a half, the project became a reality as funding was secured from The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, and Arts Council England, among many others. Anthony was instrumental to this success via his dedication to the project, bringing a wealth of expertise to the enterprise. His brother, Robin Holden, also came on board as Treasurer.
Anthony was delighted when Shakespeare North Playhouse opened to the public on 15 July 2022 and, although ill-health meant he was not able to visit in person, he very much enjoyed hearing about the successful programme, development of new audiences and the awards won during its first 15 months.
In addition to writing many biographies, Anthony was also widely known for his book about poker – Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player. It remains his bestselling book and a classic of its kind. During the mid-2000s, trustees half-playfully, half-seriously talked to Tony – as he was known affectionately by his friends and colleagues – about the possibility of a poker tournament to fundraise for the Shakespeare North Playhouse project. This never sadly came about. Yet the memory of those discussions reminds everyone involved with Shakespeare North Playhouse how multi-talented he was, and of the fun as well as the dedication that he brought to the process of Shakespeare North Playhouse becoming a reality.
We would like to commemorate Anthony’s impact upon the creation of Shakespeare North Playhouse with a permanent feature within the building grounds – likely a bench, as we know from his family that such a memorial would have been greatly to Anthony’s liking.
Shakespeare North Trust (operator of Shakespeare North Playhouse) is a registered charity, number 1120641.
We are changing the way theatre works, the way culture and creativity is utilised for the benefit of our society. We are different, we are bold, and we are brave. We use our history and our heritage as the inspiration for what we do. Understanding our history: locally, nationally, and internationally leads us to support everyone in society. We are community-focussed and the work we produce on our stages is world class.
The venue and space is for everyone in our community. There are societal and economic barriers to overcome so we want to empower people to tell their stories, in their own way, on their own terms. We want everyone to be inspired by Shakespeare; the storytelling, the imagination, the richness of characters brought to life, and how people see their own daily life presented on stage.
In the first 16 months since opening, we have welcomed over 150,000 visitors to the building, 10% of whom have never experienced any Theatre before. We have won or been shortlisted for 17 awards since opening, including Theatre Building of The Year 2023.
We want to welcome everyone to experience the magic of theatre, including many young people who might not have the opportunity to otherwise. The work we do with our communities and young people in Knowsley and beyond needs support.