It’s five in a row now for husband and wife team Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire, who have been sitting pretty at the top of The Stage 100 ever since Ambassador Theatre Group became the UK’s largest theatre operator in 2009.
Last year saw yet more movement with the sale of a majority stake in the group to new private equity partner Providence Equity for a sum rumoured to be in excess of £350 million. This was the biggest theatre deal the UK has ever seen, and it is thought that Providence is prepared to substantially bankroll further expansion of the group.
What it will mean for the company in the long term, and the UK theatre sector at large, is something of a moot point. ATG insists the Providence deal will mean more productions both at home and overseas – and therefore more employment opportunities for everyone from actors to techies – but its detractors complain of escalating costs at ATG venues and increased ticketing surcharges for punters, as private equity owners seek to generate greater returns on their investment.
Still, there have been numerous high points for partners Panter and Squire, who act as joint chief executives for the group. It must have been difficult for them to choose a favourite between Panter’s knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours and the company’s expansion into Broadway, which saw it become the first British theatre owner on the Great White Way when the group acquired the Foxwoods, Broadway’s biggest house and home – at least for the next couple of days – to Spider-Man. That acquisition means that ATG now operates 40 theatres internationally.
There is also talk of expansion elsewhere around the globe. ATG has already set up an office in Sydney and Panter has previously hinted at ventures in Europe and the Far East. Now it has Providence’s significant financial clout behind it, one would expect these plans to move forward in leaps and bounds.
On home shores, it has been a good year for a number of ATG’s subsidiaries and partnerships. Jamie Lloyd launched his season of work at the Trafalgar Studios, featuring Macbeth with James McAvoy, The Hothouse with John Simm and Simon Russell Beale and a revival of The Pride, starring Hayley Atwell.
Sonia Friedman Productions also hit a rich vein of form, with shows ranging from the West End transfer of The Book of Mormon to Harold Pinter’s Old Times.
Meanwhile, this festive season ATG’s panto production arm First Family Entertainment unveiled another impressive roster of 10 shows at venues including Glasgow’s King’s Theatre and London’s New Wimbledon Theatre. This programme positions it as second only to market leader Qdos in this highly profitable sector.
Ticketing is also a major area for ATG, and it has just purchased the Ticket Machine Group.