Producers of some of the world’s biggest theatre shows claim to be owed more than £5 million by a series of companies run by James Cundall.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, the National Theatre, international producer GWB Entertainment, Australian promoter TEG Dainty and global company Base Entertainment have claimed they are collectively owed the money across international tours of four productions: The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Matilda and War Horse.
Cundall, who was given an MBE for services to the arts earlier this year, is chief executive of UK-based company Lunchbox Theatrical Productions Ltd, which produced pop-up Shakespeare venues in York and Blenheim Palace this summer under another company called Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Ltd.
Cundall also runs five companies under the brand of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, working as a presenter in these markets for international touring shows.
The Stage reported in September that Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Ltd went into liquidation following losses that Cundall claimed were due to Brexit. Lunchbox Theatrical Productions has since also gone into administration. At the time, Equity claimed that more than 70 cast and crew members were owed thousands of pounds by Cundall’s collapsed UK companies.
The new alleged £5 million debt relates to Cundall’s international work on The Phantom of the Opera in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (produced by the Really Useful Group and Troika Entertainment), Cats in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda in Singapore and the National Theatre’s production of War Horse in New Zealand and Australia. The £5 million sum is understood to be made up of a mixture of box office income, running costs and royalties.
Really Useful Group president Jessica Koravos accused James Cundall of “exploiting developing markets”. She added: “The scale of what he has done shows such huge disregard for the livelihoods of thousands of people who were employed on these productions in good faith, often in places very far from home.”
A spokeswoman for Lunchbox Theatrical Productions did not dispute the claims, but told The Stage that the five overseas Lunchbox Theatrical Productions companies have also now gone into, or are set to go into, administration.
She said: “Lunchbox Theatrical Productions has suffered a string of significant loss-making productions, due to a number of factors including civil riots in Hong Kong, a terrorist massacre in New Zealand, competitive programming in Singapore, and consumer uncertainty due to Brexit in the UK, all of which have devastated ticket sales.”
The Lunchbox spokesperson added: “The result is that after almost three decades of taking the best of British and international theatre to audiences in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, all six LTP companies overseas and in the UK, as well as Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, are in or going into administration.”
Meanwhile, producers have reacted angrily to the fact that Cundall set up a new company called JWTC Limited, registered with UK Companies House on September 9, shortly before his other UK companies went into administration.
Executive producer of the RSC’s Matilda, Andre Ptaszynski, said: “On the realisation that Lunchbox has defaulted on payments to a number of productions and producers, it’s upsetting to then watch them try to find a way to set up another company and carry on trading.”
Paul Warwick Griffin at GWB Entertainment, which was the producer for Matilda in Singapore and Hong Kong, said it was “deeply upsetting on both a professional and a personal level” to see Cundall set up a new company.
Chief operating officer at the National Theatre Liz Fosbury added: “We were shocked to find that James Cundall continues to trade actively while owing significant funds to so many theatre companies.”