Undertakings like the Sunday Times Rich List always have a finger-in-the-air quality. But, like that measurement technique, what they lack in accuracy they make up for by quickly identifying changing winds.
True to form, this year’s Rich List highlights a few interesting developments in the ether.
Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber have – for as long as anyone can really remember – been top dogs in the West End from the point of view of financial clout. Their era of dominance as producers and theatre owners has stretched back decades. But this year they have been leapfrogged by Leonard Blavatnik and John Gore as the Theatreland figures with the biggest bank balances.
Blavatnik is a new entrant to theatre rather than the list, having bought into the West End ownership club last year with his £45 million purchase of the Theatre Royal Haymarket (from Louis I Michaels Ltd, not Lloyd Webber as the Rich List claims). His personal wealth dwarfs that of anyone else regularly operating in theatre and his purchase of the Haymarket has shifted the West End landscape.
As the Rich List rightly observes, Blavatnik paid more for the Haymarket than anyone else thought it was worth. This has already had knock-on effects, resulting in the sale price of the Ambassadors Theatre increasing. It has also led to the Sunday Times re-evaluating Mackintosh’s personal wealth, after they reckoned his West End theatres had become more highly valued in the context of the price of the Haymarket. Presumably, the same could be said of Lloyd Webber’s theatres.
Gore’s inclusion is perhaps even more intriguing. Despite having significant holdings on Broadway, he has been a pretty unheralded figure in British theatre – best known as one of the early investors in Cats and for his failed attempt to buy Live Nation’s UK theatres in 2009 when they ended up with ATG.
He has never been publicity friendly, so his decision to engage with the Sunday Times (there’s an interview alongside his inclusion in the list) and to stump up £2.6 million for the Conservative Party presumably presages some kind of major development.
My guess is he is lining up for another crack at the theatres he lost out on in 2009 when – as expected – ATG comes up for sale in the coming months. If he does, then he’ll almost certainly face opposition from Blavatnik, rather than Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber, in a move that could see the West End’s Monopoly board upturned overnight.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith