Cameron Mackintosh buys West End’s Victoria Palace and Ambassadors theatres
Cameron Mackintosh has bought the West End’s Victoria Palace and Ambassadors theatres, and will re-name the latter after US musical theatre composer Stephen Sondheim.
Mackintosh has purchased the venues from Stephen Waley-Cohen, who has owned the Victoria Palace since 1991 and the Ambassadors since 2007. The price of the deal has not been disclosed.
Bringing the total number of London venues he owns to nine, Mackintosh will rename the Ambassadors Theatre the Sondheim Theatre and said he planned to rebuild the venue’s auditorium and make it a “transfer house” primarily for seasons of productions from the subsidised sector looking for a non-proscenium performance space.
The Victoria Palace, currently home to the musical of Billy Elliot, will be closed for a year from the autumn in 2016. During this time, it will be redeveloped, with the stage extended by six metres and the front of house “enlarged and completely overhauled”.
Mackintosh said the Victoria Palace’s “shallow stage” had meant it had been unable to accommodate “many of the big shows that might have played there”.
The theatre owner said planning consent for the venue had been approved in principle already, under Waley-Cohen, which would mean that its “full potential” could be realised.
The redevelopment, he said, would “ensure it will become one of London’s most desirable and, thanks to the Victoria Station expansion scheme, strategically sited musical houses”.
Meanwhile the Ambassadors will become the Sondheim Theatre, subject to planning consents, in 2015.
“My plan is to rebuild the auditorium in order to fulfill a long standing-dream for the West End to have a transfer house primarily for seasons of exciting productions from theatres in the subsidised sector seeking a non-proscenium environment that mirrors their own stages,” Mackintosh said.
He added: “I am hoping these will come both from London and the regions and to this end we will be providing a glamorous 450-seat studio environment that will be appropriate whilst removing the need for a costly restaging to suit a proscenium arch.”
Mackintosh also said the auditorium would be redesigned, inspired by the theatre’s original architect William Sprague, which he said would complement the building’s original features.
The foyer and front of house spaces will also be improved.
Mackintosh said: “The Victoria Palace and the Sondheim will bring the Delfont Mackintosh group of theatres in London up to nine continuing my desire to keep these wonderful buildings in tip-top condition for future generations of audiences and ensuring the West End theatres remain one of the key magnets for visitors to London.”
Waley Cohen said he could think of “no better next owner” for the venues.
Speaking about the 1,500-seat Victoria Palace, he said: “He [Mackintosh] will ensure that the great enlargement and modernisation of facilities back stage and front of house are implemented to create a Matcham Theatre for the 21st Century.”
He added: “For the Ambassadors Theatre, provided planning consent is obtained for Cameron’s wonderful plans to create the Sondheim Theatre, this will be a shining example of how imaginative re-thinking can ensure a vibrant future for a historic theatre.”
He said that Stomp would continue its run at the venue until this happens and that he would continue to manage the St. Martin’s Theatre, where he produces Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap.
Sondheim said he was “flattered and thrilled” that Mackintosh had named a theatre after him.
“What I’ve always loved about London theatre is its diversity, much of which is the result of work developed in so-called fringe theatre and in non-traditional spaces,” he said.
He added: “Most of those shows, for financial and practical reasons, have limited runs as well as limited audiences. What Cameron is supplying is a transfer house for seasons of those productions, a way of prolonging their lives and allowing them to be seen by an expansive variety of audiences.”
Delfont Mackintosh is also the owner of the Prince Edward Theatre, the Prince of Wales Theatre, the Novello Theatre, the Queen’s Theatre, the Gielgud Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre, and the Noel Coward Theatre.
It is the second largest operator of London venues after Ambassador Theatre Group, which owns 11.