Nuffield Southampton Theatres could be saved and reopen, with stakeholders now considering a second round of bids after failing to secure a buyer for the venue.
It is not known how many bidders have submitted applications, however one group – Icarus Theatre Collective – has confirmed its attempt to take over the two spaces that are part of venue NST City.
The Southampton Nuffield Theatre Trust went into administration in May as a result of financial difficulty during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Following an application process to find a new buyer, administrators Smith & Williamson announced earlier this month that despite receiving more than 30 expressions of interest, resulting in three potential buyers, none had met the conditions set by stakeholders.
NST’s key stakeholders include Southampton City Council and Arts Council England.
Satvir Kaur, cabinet member for homes, communities and culture for Southampton City Council, confirmed that the initial three proposals put forward by administrators "did not meet the city’s requirements" and that the council was now "going through a second process".
"To preserve the integrity of the process and ensure all bidders are treated fairly, the next stage remains confidential between the respective parties until such time as a decision on the outcome is made, at which point we will make formal announcements," she said.
Icarus Theatre Collective confirmed to The Stage that it had been one of the unsuccessful potential buyers in the initial round and that the council had later informed the company it was inviting new bids. Icarus has subsequently submitted a revised, more detailed application, created in collaboration with around a dozen former staff members at NST.
Icarus, led by producer and director Max Lewendel, plans to rename itself NST City Arts Centre Trust and intends to run the theatre as a producing venue with a wide-ranging community and outreach mission.
"We want it to be something that brings in the community in all sorts of ways," Lewendel said, adding that the group’s mission included "reaching out into the community to develop a range of high quality, inclusive and extensive activities".
Lewendel has raised £381,000 in investment, which he said would enable Icarus to purchase the assets, reopen the theatre and rehire staff. If successful, he said that a significant number of the 86 staff made redundant with NST’s closure could be retained.
Setting out his mission for NST City Arts Centre, he said: "We will present a broad range of high-quality, diverse performing art, including family shows, drama, music, comedy, music theatre, opera, dance, community outreach and much more."
He added that he hoped to produce "home-grown artists and commission the best new writing from the country’s most prestigious and multifaceted authors, as well as producing rich classics told in a contemporary style relevant to the people of Southampton".
Under Lewendel’s proposals, the theatre would restart programming from January 2021 but be used for youth and community work before then. He added that he has drafted a five-year plan to build up the number of in-house productions, which he described as a "realistic, solid and sustainable model".
He told The Stage: "Coming back from Covid, we’re not going to be able to just walk in and present the same level of programming. It’s going to take time for the industry as a whole to recover, as well as audiences to get comfortable."
If successful, Lewendel will act as the organisation’s artistic leader. He has lined up Ron McAllister – founding artistic director of the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield – as chief executive.
A new "inclusive, representative" board will also be appointed, under the proposals.
NST City comprises a 450-seat main house and 133-seat studio. Until recently, the Southampton Nuffield Theatre Trust also operated NST Campus, at the University of Southampton, which has now closed for refurbishment.