1st equal: Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire
Ambassador Theatre Group
Last year: 1st
Highest ever: 1st
Now celebrating a fourth year at No 1 in The Stage 100, Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire’s Ambassador Theatre Group is top dog when it comes to the world of UK commercial theatre.
While ATG has not added to its portfolio of 39 West End and regional theatres – many of which were acquired in its £90 million, private equity-funded purchase of Live Nation’s UK theatres in 2009 – the group expanded its production line-up considerably during 2012 and announced a significant expansion into the Asia Pacific region, with a new office in Sydney, to be headed by the Really Useful Group’s Tim McFarlane. It will be interesting to see how ATG’s ‘vertically integrated’ – venues, productions, ticketing – business model will work in a new territory.
Back in Blighty, the year has seen the group add to its stable of producing partners, with the launch of Tali Pelman Productions and Jamie Lloyd Productions, which join a variety of other subsidiaries and partnerships, including Sonia Friedman Productions, First Family Entertainment, Jerry Mitchell Productions and Theatre Royal Brighton Productions. The idea behind these ventures is to provide extra product to fill ATG houses around the UK.
Having done the rounds of ATG’s regional venues, the company’s production of Spamalot made its way to the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre and then the Playhouse, while a tour of the Dolly Parton musical 9 to 5 looks as though it could follow suit, following encouraging notices.
Meanwhile, back in London, the Duke of York’s Royal Court season, co-produced by ATG, has been one of the year’s artistic highlights, with Constellations by Nick Payne deservedly recognised as best play at the London Evening Standard Awards.
Other ATG productions doing the rounds in 2012 included All New People, Blue/Orange, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Legally Blonde the Musical – in both the UK and Australia – The Rocky Horror Show, South Pacific and Monkee Business.
Much of ATG’s forward-looking business plan seems to revolve around an expansion of its ticketing operation, but the year has not been without its problems in this regard. The implementation of new ticketing software across the company has encountered a few hiccups, while top comedian Sarah Millican took a stand in protest against ATG’s booking fee policy by refusing to tour to its venues. It is known that she is not alone in her concerns.
Still, ATG is one of UK commercial theatre’s – and, indeed, British business’ – great success stories, with husband and wife Panter and Squire having built the company from the ground up into an international power over a period of little more than 20 years.
ATG’s impressive commercial performance has not gone unnoticed outside the theatre industry, either – it was listed in The Sunday Times Buyout Track 100 at No 2 earlier this year. The list ranks Britain’s 100 mid-market private equity-backed companies with the fastest-growing profits over their latest two years of available accounts. Indeed, it’s an open secret within the industry that ATG is likely to be sold in the coming years. One would have thought that – until that time comes – Panter and Squire will prove hard to budge at the top of The Stage 100.
1st equal: Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr
Last year: 2nd
Highest ever: 1st
With ATG sitting astride The Stage 100 as UK theatre’s commercial powerhouse, the National is in many ways its creative equivalent.
While its South Bank base has long been recognised as a beacon of artistic excellence, the venue’s prominence in this list – and, indeed, the sector more widely – is thanks principally to the increasingly regular forays the NT has conducted beyond its headquarters.
War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors have both conquered the West End and Broadway, and such has been the NT’s success in New York – winning yet another Tony this year for James Corden’s performance in the latter production – that it has now set up its own office in the US theatre capital.
War Horse is also currently running – cantering? – in Toronto and on a North American tour, with a new production opening in Australia last month, and others due to open in Berlin and tour the UK later this year.
Meanwhile, the NT’s pre-eminence in the London theatre scene is such that when The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time follows War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors into the West End this year, the NT will have three of its own productions running concurrently in the commercial West End. It will also have major productions of War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors touring the UK. All this is produced in-house. This will put it on a par with the commercial output enjoyed by the likes of Cameron Mackintosh and the Really Useful Group during their heyday.
And, of course, that hasn’t even begun to touch on the NT’s cinema programme, which means that its productions are now available to audiences internationally and on screens across the UK.
Back at its South Bank base, the NT celebrated the tenth anniversary of its Travelex ticketing scheme and marked the Jubilee and Olympics with its Inside Out Festival. Its indoor programme of work also enjoyed another excellent year, featuring productions including The Effect, This House, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens and the return of London Road and Collaborators. It has also just broken ground at the back of the NT for the new production building, marking the start of its £70 million NT Future redevelopment.
Meanwhile, throughout 2012, the NT continued to offer marketing and box office support to other theatre companies, including Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words at Sadler’s Wells, LIFT’s Gatz in the West End, Handspring Puppet Company UK’s Crow at the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, Paines Plough’s Roundabout Season at Shoreditch Town Hall, and Shunt’s The Architects at the Biscuit Factory.
While executive director Nick Starr has been the key player in much of the commercial expansion, artistic director Nicholas Hytner has also been especially prominent during 2012 in the role of outspoken advocate for the subsidised theatre. His has been the leading voice in the argument against government cuts to arts funding, and his approach has been emblematic of the distinctly collegiate way in which the NT is leading British theatre from the front.