Cameron Mackintosh is to add two more theatres to his growing West End theatre empire, today announcing that his theatre division, Delfont Mackintosh, is taking over the Victoria Palace Theatre and Ambassadors Theatre.
Mackintosh will take over the VP, currently home to Billy Elliot, from June this year with plans to completely renovate the ailing Victorian venue.
He will take over the Ambassadors Theatre, which is currently playing STOMP, in 2015 and rename it the Sondheim Theatre.
This will mean that his enlarged theatre group will own nine West End venues: the Victoria Palace, Ambassadors Theatre, Noel Coward Theatre, Novello Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Queen’s Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre, the Prince Edward Theatre and the Prince of Wales Theatre. Nimax Theatres owns 6 West End venues, Ambassador Theatre Group owns 12 venues and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group owns 6 venues.
Mackintosh is renaming the Ambassadors Theatre the Sondheim Theatre as a tribute to musicals composer Stephen Sondheim, with whom he has had a close working and personal relationship for many years. This follows his renaming of three other theatres in tribute to prominent figures (and interestingly, gay figures) from British theatre: John Gielgud, Noel Coward and Ivor Novello.
Plans for the Victoria Palalce are inspired by the massive regeneration project currently underway in Victoria that has seen all buildings around the VP under demolition or restoration (builders have agreed to halt works during matinee performances of Billy Elliot to protect the show from the noise of building works).
Mackintosh’s planned restoration of the VP will last around a year from autumn 2016 and include extending the stage by six metres, enlarging the front of house areas and conducting a much-needed and major overhaul of the auditorium and exterior of the Frank Matcham-designed theatre.
It is currently unclear whether Billy Elliot will find a new home from autumn 2016 or close.
Major plans for the newly named Sondheim Theatre include turning it into a receiving house to enable plays from the subsidised theatre sector and the regions to transfer into London for extended seasons. Plans for the theatre include completely rebuilding the auditorium and creating a non-proscenium stage that is more in line with the stages of subsidised venues.
Ambassadors Theatre Group sold the Ambassadors Theatre to Stephen Waley-Cohen in 2007. Waley-Cohen acquired the Victoria Palace in 1991.
VICTORIA PALACE THEATRE
- Theatre opened: 6 November 1911
- Designed by: Frank Matcham
- First production: A variety bill
- Number of seats: 1,517
- Other info: The Victoria Palace was built on the site of the Royal Standard Music Hall (Royal Standard Hotel built in 1832; Enlarged and became known as Moy’s Music Hall; Renamed the Royal Standard Concert Rooms in 1854; Refurbished and renamed the Royal Standard Music Hall, opening on 26 December 1863; Demolished in 1886 and rebuilt, opening in 1891; Demolished in 1910)
- Theatre opened: 5 June 1913
- Designed by: W. G. R. Sprague
- First production: Panthea by Monckton Hoffe
- Number of seats: 425
- Other info: Previously called the New Ambassadors Theatre
STATEMENTS IN FULL
Cameron Mackintosh said today in a statement that:
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to take over stewardship of the Victoria Palace Theatre from Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen. I consider its auditorium one of Matcham’s finest, with a remarkable fusion of intimacy and scale, a gloriously rich décor and perfect sight lines from every seat. Despite hosting many long running hits including Buddy, Annie, and the current Billy Elliot, the theatre’s shallow stage has meant that it can’t accommodate many of the big shows that might have played there.
“What really made the Victoria Palace irresistible to me is that Stephen has imaginatively seized the opportunity arising from the major building development taking place all around the theatre to obtain planning consent to extend the stage and front of house areas. This means that the full potential of the theatre can be realised with one of the best stages in the West End, ensuring it will become one of London’s most desirable and, thanks to the Victoria Station expansion scheme, strategically sited musical houses.
“With planning already approved in principle, we intend to close the theatre for about a year from late 2016, in order to tie the work into the rest of the exterior development. This purchase will take place over the next few weeks.
“Separately, I have also agreed with Stephen to take over the Ambassadors Theatre, renaming it The Sondheim Theatre. This is subject to obtaining the necessary planning consents and is intended to take place in early 2015.
“My plan is to completely rebuild the auditorium in order to fulfil a long standing dream for the West End to have a transfer house primarily for seasons of exciting productions from theatres in the subsidised sector seeking a non-proscenium environment that mirrors their own stages.
“I am hoping these will come both from London and the Regions and to this end we will be providing a glamorous 450 seat studio environment that will be appropriate whilst removing the need for a costly restaging to suit a proscenium theatre.
“We will be creating a contemporary auditorium inspired by the original theatre architect, William Sprague, complementing the original features of the building much as I did when I rebuilt the interior of the Prince of Wales theatre 11 years ago. That subsequently transformed that theatre’s fortunes reopening with MAMMA MIA! and now The Book of Mormon. In the front of house areas we will be retaining as much as possible of the original Sprague plasterwork – being a great admirer of his work I have already restored five other of his beautiful theatres in the West End.
“The foyer and front-of-house facilities will also be much improved and enlarged. I am delighted that Stephen Sondheim has agreed to allow me to name the new Theatre after him.
The Victoria Palace and The Sondheim will bring the Delfont Mackintosh group of theatres in London up to nine continuing my desire to keep these wonderful buildings in tip-top condition for future generations of audiences and ensuring that West End Theatres remain one of the key magnets for visitors to London.”
Stephen Waley-Cohen said:
“For the Victoria Palace there can be no better next owner than Cameron Mackintosh. He will ensure that the great enlargement and modernisation of facilities back-stage and front of house are implemented to create a Matcham Theatre for the 21st Century.
“I have been privileged to have stewardship of it for almost 25 years, and thank all the staff I have worked with to create the improvements we have already achieved, as well as the producers who have brought such successful shows.
“For the Ambassadors Theatre, provided planning consent is obtained for Cameron’s wonderful plans to create the Sondheim Theatre, this will be a shining example of how imaginative re-thinking can ensure a vibrant future for a historic theatre. Until this happens, Stomp will continue its very successful run, and we will welcome back the National Youth Theatre for a second repertory season this autumn.
“I will continue to manage the St. Martin’s Theatre where I produce Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap as well as managing its continuing worldwide success.”
Stephen Sondheim said:
“I am flattered and thrilled that Cameron Mackintosh has chosen to rename The Ambassadors Theatre after me. What I’ve always loved about London theater is its diversity, much of which is the result of work developed in so-called “fringe theatre” and in non-traditional spaces.
“Most of those shows, for financial and practical reasons, have limited runs as well as limited audiences. What Cameron is supplying is a transfer house for seasons of those productions, a way of prolonging their lives and allowing them to be seen by an expansive variety of audiences – something, I should add, as much needed in New York as in London.
“To have my name attached to such a vivifying contribution to British theatre is an honour as well as a thrill.”