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HQ Theatres to run £26m Guildford venue

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HQ Theatres, the UK’s second largest regional theatre operator, has been chosen to run the new £26 million entertainment venue in Guildford.

The as-yet unnamed building, which replaces the Guildford Civic on the same site, will become the ninth theatre in HQ’s portfolio when it opens in October 2011. It will also be the first venue that the company has run from start-up.

Derek Nicholls, chief executive of HQ Theatres, said one of the key factors in the company’s decision to bid to run the venue had been the fact it was a newbuild.

He told The Stage: “It is brand new and, although big design decisions were made before we were appointed, there is plenty of scope left for us to influence all of the facilities that the public will encounter and that’s very important.

“It’s something that doesn’t happen very often – the opportunity to shape a theatre in the way that you feel is able to give best satisfaction, best service, best quality of everything.”

Nicholls said the theatre, which will seat almost 1,100 or accommodate 1,700 for a standing concert, was going to be a “stunningly attractive building” with a glass front.

He added that the programme will predominantly feature one-nighters, with an emphasis on classical music, pop concerts and comedy.

He explained that because the venue did not feature flying facilities, it was unlikely to regularly stage touring musicals, although it could play host to ice shows or ballet, while HQ is keen to work with local festivals and amateur groups in the area.

The venue also features a smaller studio space, which will feature up and coming musical and comedy acts. Meanwhile, the site also has “considerable conferencing and banqueting” facilities and is equipped with seminar and VIP rooms.

HQ, the venue division of Qdos Entertainment, was chosen to run the venue ahead of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which had also been shortlisted as a potential operator.

HQ lost out to ATG when the two companies last went head to head – over the tender to operate the new Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, which opens this month.

Nicholls said the company is currently looking at a “number” of further opportunities across the UK and that he expected there to be “more and more” councils offering management contracts to private firms to run council-owned theatres, with funding cuts expected in the public sector this autumn.

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