ATG chief brands West End theatres “not fit for purpose”

Howard Panter. Photo: Martin Smith
Howard Panter. Photo: Martin Smith
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Ambassador Theatre Group chief executive Howard Panter has said that most West End theatres are “not fit for purpose” and should be replaced.

Speaking at the International Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference in London, Panter, who owns 11 West End theatres, said that theatres upwards of 100 years old were not built to last this long, and as such are ill-equipped to cater for modern-day audiences.

“The trouble is, there will never be enough room in those buildings for enough leg space, enough bar space, enough showers for artists, whatever it might be. There simply won’t,” he said.

As a model, he referred to Broadway, where a number of theatres have been demolished and rebuilt “without any diminution of values or standards”.

“This is not about taking away theatre, it’s about making theatres better in the theatre capital of the world,” he added.

Fellow theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber has previously spoken about the “shocking” state of West End theatres, and in 2000 called for the demolition of theatres such as the West End’s Lyric and Apollo, the roof of which collapsed last December. Speaking to the Times, he suggested the Apollo and Lyric be knocked down and "replaced by a couple of top-quality modern theatres" or be knocked together to create improved, shared front of house facilities.

Panter also spoke about ATG’s international expansion into both Australia and the Far East. He said the group was “actively working on” acquisitions and projects in Seoul, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“Australia is an interesting and growing market and we hope that in the not too distant future we will have one, two, three or more venues in there,” he said.

“In Korea we have a site and two Korean partners and our intent is to build a new theatre there,” he added.

Earlier this week, ATG announced the creation of two new business appointments as part of the group’s international expansion.

Julia Potts will return to ATG after a three-year absence, during which time she has been executive director of the Almeida Theatre. She takes up the new position of UK business development director. Karin Gartzke, currently ATG’s business development director, will now focus entirely on international initiatives.


  1. Shame on Sir Howard, he is responsible for the least comfortable “modern” theatre in the West End, the Trafalagar Studios, not only is there no leg room, there are no armrests!

  2. Yea all he and ATG care about it bigger bars to get more sales, not the comfort of their customers! Not fit for purpose – a bit like ATG website and ticketing system!!!

  3. For ATG it’s all about creating extra space for more Bars so they can then charge the inflated prices and to hell what the public think. Maybe Sir Howard should invest in his current stock of Theatres here in the UK and not just in London or abroad. This statement actually shows the real stand his company takes on Theatre. ATG have muscled in with one purpose and that is to exploit customers and staff. Well done for that one.

  4. ATG appoints new business directors to drive international expansion. I guess thats why most of the Theatres are under staffed and paid barely above the minimum wage. Is that why you made the long serving staff redundant in Birmingham?

  5. I was recently seated in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse directly behind a pillar. It’s not just old theatres.

  6. “Oh Mr Panter, what a to do,
    You’ve got a load of theatres that aren’t fit for me or you.
    So you’ll repay the restoration levy,
    As quickly as you can.
    Oh! Mr Panter, what silly boy I am”

    With apologies to George Le Brunn & Marie Lloyd.

  7. What a contrast to Cameron Mackintosh who has invested heavily in his theatres and has always spoken of being a custodian with a duty of care for these important and historic buildings. He has made major improvements even given the constraints that these buildings present. Give me a wonderful, atmospheric Matcham or Sprague designed theatre any day – the walls ooze history and visiting one of these architectural gems is, for me, part of the theatregoing experience. Looking at some of ATG’s newer theatres – Woking and Milton Keynes spring to mind – there might be more space front of house but the auditoriums are pretty souless and, in terms of comfort, there’s very little improvement in the seating from older buildings.

    This is a very depressing statement from the head of a company which owns more theatres than anyone else in the UK – shame on you, Howard Panter.

  8. Howard Panter is a hypocrite, ATG venues are the most tatty in the West End, threadbare carpet, peeling paint etc. ATG are obsessed with taking over more buildings instead of investing in the upkeep of the ones they already have, they charge inflated booking fees to prop up their huge empire. ATG ruined the beautiful Whitehall Theatre in London to create what is now a mess that is badly run with a broom cupboard studio underneath with very limited disabled access, so that is that what he calls ATG’s answer to modern buildings? Shame on ATG, if Howard hasn’t got anything decent to say he should shut up!

  9. I wonder if SIR Howard would have still got his knighthood if he had said to the Queen, “you should replace Bucks Palace with a modern eyesore”. As previous comments have already stated. Invest in what you have already instead of being greedy and taking all the investment out of this country. These Theatres and not those just in London have stood 100 years and will do a further 100 but the sad state you are driving them means they will only be fit for demolition. This is what you get when commercial giants like ATG rule our beautiful Theatres.

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