Cameron Mackintosh’s Sondheim Theatre in doubt due to cost concerns
Cameron Mackintosh has revealed he is reconsidering whether or not to push ahead with plans to redevelop the West End’s Ambassadors Theatre, after an “incredibly tough” experience working on the Victoria Palace Theatre.
His company Delfont Mackintosh was granted planning permission, subject to restrictions, by Camden Council in February to demolish most of the existing Ambassadors Theatre and redevelop it into a flexible 450 to 475-seat performance space, which would be renamed the Sondheim Theatre.
However, speaking at a Theatres Trust conference in London earlier this month, Mackintosh admitted he was reconsidering the project to see whether he was still able to afford it.
Mackintosh said: “I’m now having to evaluate [the Ambassadors Theatre project] very, very carefully after an incredibly tough experience with the Victoria Palace to see if I can afford it, because the thing is I’m talking about a 400-odd-seat theatre which can never make any money.
“There’s got to be a limit to the amount of money I spend on it, but I don’t know what that is yet.”
He added: “Invariably, whatever [the estimated price of the project is], you can add 25% on [that] if you’re lucky. It was much more than that at the Victoria Palace.
“So we need to be incredibly careful. However, I’m an optimist, I would love to get that theatre open for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday [on March 22, 2020], which is not that far away, so we’ll see what happens. In the next few months we’ll know.”
Mackintosh said the cost of redeveloping the Victoria Palace was “astronomical” and added: “Had I not had a lot of money from my day job I would have been in the psychiatric ward.”
Mackintosh has not yet purchased the Ambassadors Theatre from its current owner Stephen Waley-Cohen.
Waley-Cohen told The Stage: “I am aware of Cameron’s continuing interest, and of his concerns, and we continue to discuss it all.”
Plans for Mackintosh to redevelop the Ambassadors Theatre were first announced in 2015, when the aim was to complete the project by 2017.
Mackintosh’s vision would see the venue host productions from eight to 16 weeks, to give a future life to shows from subsidised venues such as the Donmar, the National Theatre’s Dorfman, and studio spaces at Sheffield Theatres and Leicester’s Curve.
However, the plans were put on hold until at least 2018 when Mackintosh announced he would be focusing on the refurbishment of the Victoria Palace Theatre.
These are not the first plans for the Sondheim Theatre. Mackintosh originally intended to build the venue in a space above the Queen’s and Gielgud Theatres as part of a £20 million development. However, these 2003 plans were shelved, and never materialised.
A spokesman for Camden Council said it was unable to comment on an existing planning application.