An investigation by The Stage has uncovered the scale of problems at Preston’s Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, with further alleged debts totalling tens of thousands of pounds and producers routinely turning to legal action in pursuit of unpaid revenue.
Producers are abandoning plans to present future shows at the Preston theatre, despite historically strong ticket sales, as a result.
Local businessman Simon Rigby bought the theatre from Preston council for £1 in 2014, but five years later it is facing accusations that it owes nearly £100,000 in box office takings.
These include a previously reported dispute between the theatre and Bill Kenwright Ltd over an alleged unpaid sum of £70,000. BKL has now said it would advise other promoters to “think very carefully indeed” before taking shows there.
The Stage can now reveal that several visiting producers are chasing further amounts adding up to nearly £30,000, for shows over the past year. Among these are Fierylight – a producing partnership between Fiery Angel and Limelight – which is poised to take legal action over an alleged debt of £17,000 relating to revenue from a Peppa Pig stage show in October, after previous attempts to retrieve the money, including a statutory demand, were unsuccessful.
Additional allegations include £9,600 from a George Michael tribute show presented at the venue last March by Ellis Live, which has now served the theatre with a county court judgement, and £1,750 from a Bee Gees tribute show by producer Entertainers.
Entertainers director James Taylor told The Stage he had pulled a Motown-themed show from the Guild Hall’s programme as a result of escalating concerns.
The Stage is also aware of another producer who is taking legal action in pursuit of several thousands of pounds, and has heard from multiple others who have been forced to involve lawyers when left unpaid.
These include Pulse Records and Password Productions, both of which took legal action to secure a total of £38,500 in ticket revenue. Others include Selladoor Worldwide, which also pursued legal action over an undisclosed unpaid sum.
David Johnson, from Password Productions, said the experience meant he would be avoiding the theatre in future.
“The tragedy for me is that this has been a well-run venue – with good programming and good marketing. But any theatre with a reputation of not settling their bills promptly will undoubtedly have trouble programming good shows in the future,” Johnson added.
His views were echoed by producer Matt Brinkler, from Red Entertainment, who said he had enjoyed working at the theatre and with its staff, but that experience of slow payments and legal involvement had persuaded him against taking shows there this year. Red had been considering presenting six productions at the venue.
Brinkler said he was concerned for smaller producers. “The big and medium-sized producers can see the warning signs because we’ve had it before, but the up-and-coming producers who can’t afford to lose £5,000 to £10,000, they’re the ones who are going to suffer. It’s not only losing money, a six-month delay on your money can send you under as not everyone has great cash flow.”
The theatre left council control in 2014 when the authority said it could no longer afford operation costs. It was bought by Rigby, whose company the Rigby Organisation also runs businesses in the hospitality, energy, property and care sectors.
Neither the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre nor the Rigby Organisation responded to requests for comment by The Stage.