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The O2 vows to expand theatre offering

London’s the O2 is looking to expand its programming beyond live music and establish itself as an entertainment destination similar to the Southbank Centre, The Stage can reveal.

The Greenwich peninsular venue is staging its first pantomime this year – Aladdin: A Wish Come True, starring Lily Savage as Widow Twankey and created by veteran theatre producer Michael Rose, will premiere in a purpose-built 1,920-seat theatre. But while the theatre is a temporary structure, there is a three-year plan in place, if Aladdin proves successful, for Rose to stage pantomimes again.

And the O2’s chiefs have said they will even consider creating a permanent theatre to stage everything from seasonal shows to straight plays.

John Byrne

The O2 general manager Rebecca Kane told The Stage: “We’ve had five years of phenomenal success. Who knew AEG, a US company coming for the first time to trade in the UK, could turn the dome into the world’s most popular arena for music?

“The exciting challenge now is to build on that. It means moving from that purist focus on music in the arena and pushing the O2 out to become a real destination in its own right, 365 days a year – so you know there will be always be something happening somewhere on the site.”

Citing London’s Southbank Centre – the world’s biggest single-run arts complex – as a key inspiration, Kane said the O2 had already started branching out beyond music by hosting events such as the Sundance London film and music festival, the Royal Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

It now plans to stage events across the site – inside and out – to create more of a hub for entertainment.

“Somewhere like the South Bank would be an inspiration,” she added. “If you think about the walkway and what it represents – it’s got restaurants, bars, the London Eye, a wealth of attractions, and the Southbank Centre is the core anchor of that.

“We’re looking at doing more around the arena as well as in the arena. In 2011, we had 192 events inside so there is a bit of growth potential but the really exciting challenge is what we can do with the other spaces.”

She said the company was “investing heavily” in bringing theatre to the O2: “It’s the first time we’ve built a purpose built theatre. We’re putting a lot behind it.”

Asked whether she might consider making it a permanent fixture Kane said: “Potentially. We’re up for trying things. In terms of the theatre, we want to get it right this year, see how it goes, build a broad audience. But we still have some areas that don’t have permanent installs so there’s an opportunity if this works to having something more regular.”

Kane said family-led shows were the obvious option – but she refused to rule out anything, even Shakespeare. “Family is the obvious demographic. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t ever consider staging something else. We’re open to all options.”

For more on Aladdin at the O2, see this week’s print edition of The Stage.