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

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.