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First new build West End theatre in 50 years opens this Autumn

@sohoplace
  • The first new build West End theatre to open in 50 years
  • Located in Soho Place, the first new street name in Soho for 72 years
  • A state-of-the-art, new and flexible 602-seat auditorium with perfect sightlines and acoustics, opening configured ‘in the round’
  • A creatives’ floor with rehearsal room, actors’ Green Room, bar and terrace
  • A ground floor public restaurant and bar, open from midday to midnight
  • Impressive screen show-signage including a double-sided 17m by 3m digital screen front of house sign on Charing Cross Road and a large screen in the centre of the front façade on Soho Place
  • The theatre lies at the heart of Derwent London’s £300m regeneration project at the north east corner of Soho
  • Derwent London picked a first class team to overcome the engineering challenges of building a theatre immediately above three tube lines and Crossrail’s large extractor fan to achieve perfect acoustics in the auditorium with no vibrations 

Leading West End producer and theatre owner, Nica Burns, today announces the opening of @sohoplace, the first new-build West End theatre in 50 years.  The culmination of a 12-year project, the theatre is owned by Nica Burns and operated by Nimax Theatres and will open this autumn with the first production to be announced soon.

The theatre is adjacent to the site of the old Astoria theatre which was demolished to build Crossrail. The auditorium sits directly above Crossrail’s new Elizabeth line and the existing Northern and Central lines at Tottenham Court Road station, a major transport hub. In addition, Crossrail’s huge ventilation fans extracting the hot air from the platform below and working full-time 365 days a year are also adjacent to the auditorium.  A challenging location to build a new modern theatre with state-of-the-art facilities!

The theatre @sohoplace is at the heart of property giant Derwent London’s visionary £300 million regeneration of a neglected corner of Soho.  Totalling 285,000 square feet it is a mixed development with the theatre at its heart, offices and retail and a fantastic new piazza, an ideal meeting place for Londoners to start their day or night out in the West End.

Nica Burns, Theatre ownersaid:

“I wanted to create a theatre which could add a different dimension to our vibrant West End landscape.  I asked our greatest theatre creatives two questions: If we could build a new theatre in the heart of the West End, what would you like it to be?  What additional facilities would be on your wish list? They dreamt of a flexible auditorium, perfect acoustics and audience / stage intimacy.  An ability to create on-site with the dream of a rehearsal room, a Green Room and a bar all in the same building.  So that’s what we built – with a few extras including an outside terrace.”

“The incredible team of engineers pulled off the greatest of structural feats, building over a major underground transport hub – a challenging place to build a theatre – achieving perfect acoustics and no vibrations”.

The auditorium has the following key qualities:

  1. Wonderful acoustics
  2. Perfect sightlines from every seat with no obscured views
  3. Intimate actor/audience relationship: no seat further than 6 rows from the stage
  4. Curved auditorium unifying both audience and actors (theatre term ‘the hug’)
  5. The flexible auditorium can be transformed into a number of different configurations

The theatre interior was inspired by Nica’s visit to Epidaurus when young.  “I was standing on the stage of this great ancient theatre at 8 o’clock – show time – as the last rays of a golden sun were coming through the trees and the stars were starting to twinkle in an indigo sky. It was magic.  Epidaurus is one of the greatest theatres in the world and the plays of ancient Greece are still part of our theatre heritage today.  The interior of @sohoplace reflects these colours and when you walk through the theatre you walk under crystal star lights, laid out in constellations. When you pass the building, look up to the terrace and you will see the constellations shine.”

“I am incredibly privileged to be working with Derwent London who hand-picked the most outstanding team – all leaders and innovators in their sectors – to deliver this challenging build:

  • Architect Simon Allford, founder of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, one of London’s most significant international architectural practices.  Simon is currently President of RIBA.
  • Arup, a brilliant worldwide engineering giant who make the impossible, possible.
  • Laing O’Rourke, renowned global construction company, specialising in delivering the most difficult projects.

Finally, a very big thank you to all at Westminster Council.  We have had incredible support from every team member and we couldn’t have done it without you”.

Paul Williams, Chief Executive Derwent London said:

Working alongside world-class architects and engineers, and in collaboration with Crossrail and our partner Nica Burns, we are delighted to have developed this new state-of-the-art theatre together with substantial public realm as part of a successful commercial regeneration project above the Elizabeth line.”

Simon Allford, Architect said:

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My 2020 Theatre Heroes & Villains

Theatre Heroes and Villains of 2020

AH, dear old 2020.

In mid-March Covid-19 prompted all British theatres and arts centres to close their doors.

From that moment onwards, the carnage, pandemonium, weirdness and misery barely let up; our world-beating £7 billion cultural sector, so savaged by lockdowns that it remains at risk of permanent decimation.

A socially distanced Watermill Theatre in Newbury, with select seats wrapped as presents for the future.

For the first time in its 70 year history, the Edinburgh Fringe was cancelled. Broadway shows are expected to remain closed through to at least May 2021.

There was, though, many great acts of heroism; not all heroes wear capes.

Let’s begin with the National Theatre. The NT at Home initiative was one of the biggest virtual triumphs of lockdown; it broadcast 16 productions for free on YouTube, clocked up 15 million views and reached 173 countries.

The one-off free streaming of Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s potent monologue Death of England: Delroy – which had its live run cut short – was sensational.

The NT has today launched a brand new streaming platform National Theatre at Home – featuring a range of NT Live productions and, for the first time, some treasured plays from the NT archive.

For unlimited access to the catalogue on National Theatre at Home, a subscription will be £9.98 per month or £99.98 per year. For access to a single play in a 72 hour window, it will be £5.99 for an NT Archive title and National Theatre Live titles are available from £7.99.

I thought ITV’s three-part drama Quiz, written by James Graham – based on his stage play that began at Chichester Festival Theatre- was a masterstroke.

The dark irony was, though, that the ‘coughing major’ comedy was one of the few TV shows that was good enough to make us all forget the ongoing medical crisis for its duration. Graham donated his full commission to funds for freelancers.

Looking back now, one of my personal favourite moments involved a last-minute decision to throw open my Zoom on Friday evenings to anyone who wanted to take part in a theatre quiz. It was unexpectedly popular and rewarding and, in the chaos of lockdown, very moving.

ITV Quiz

During that first lockdown I came to a crossroads when I realised that the secret truth at the heart of almost all theatre is: Everyone’s Doing Their Best.

It’s hard to say why this revelation impacted me so deeply. Had I previously been under the impression that people were deliberately making terrible theatre, or simply being terrible at their jobs, just to annoy me? I came to realise that most things are simply bad by accident.

Anyway, this year, she closed 18 shows. Paused 10.

Sonia Friedman Productions continued its success at the 2020 Olivier Awards, scooping the coveted Best New Play Award for the fourth consecutive year with the intimate and epic Tom Stoppard play Leopoldstadt.

Incredibly, SFP was also responsible for a superb filmed stage version of Uncle Vanya starring Toby Jones. It was a hit in UK cinemas and will be screened on BBC Four this Christmas. This woman has been my idol all of my professional life, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Toby Jones and Richard Armitage, Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre

All year, producer Friedman used her clout to lobby government. Announcing comedy play The Comeback in the West End, she said: “Medicine saves lives, but culture makes life worth living.”

Looking back now, many of UK theatre’s producers and artistic directors rose to the challenges of the pandemic – combining laser-focus and decision making-authority with a real emotional feel for the creative workforce.

Of course, there are plenty of people in the industry who are simply phoning it in.

But so many took exciting digital work to audiences or streamed archive productions. Under Elizabeth Newman’s leadership, just one of a number of bright ideas, Pitlochry Festival Theatre set up a Telephone Club for vulnerable members of the community, Alan Lane and Slung Low continue to meet local needs distributing food and books to the people in south Leeds.

Artistic director Alan Lane, left, and The Slung Low team at the Holbeck.

The Unicorn theatre presented Anansi the Spider Re-Spun: fun virtual performances, created in lockdown, for children. Cultural organisations like this remain vital to communities, enabling young people’s creativity, whilst fighting for survival.

Throughout those initial long Covid months, there were modest acts of heroism from producer David Pugh and his touring production of Educating Rita at the open-air Minack Theatre in Cornwall. I loved it.

Pugh later made light of the fact that profits for investors were enough for ‘a meal at KFC’. The show has a week-long run at the Mayflower in Southampton in February.

To her credit, Nica Burns reopened the first West End theatres post lockdown – welcoming audiences back to the Apollo – for Adam Kay’s show about the NHS, This Is Going To Hurt. Burns will reopen the first West End musicals Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Six and hopes this return will prove the sector is safe and ready to resume.

Staying with the heroes, film and theatre director Sam Mendes called on Netflix — who profited from the acting, writing and directing talent nurtured on stage during lockdown— to pour some of their COVID-19 cash into British theatre. Netflix obliged, with the Theatre Artists Fund for freelancers. Mendes’ practical suggestions included: increasing the theatre’s tax relief scheme from 20% to 50%, and inviting the government to become “theatrical angels”, by investing in productions.

Moreover, performers deserve huge credit for keeping us all entertained online: Rob Madge and Oscar Conlon-Morrey lift our spirits on Twitter during these difficult times.

Pick of the bunch, for me, is Kieran C Hodgson impersonating characters from The Crown – Season 4. Genius.

10-year-old ‘#CheerUpCharlie’ Kristensen released a charity single with some of his West End favourites to raise money for the Diana Award. Little legend.

The Bush theatre commissioned six black British artists to respond to the killing of George Floyd, the results, The Protest, were astonishing, disturbing, vital and offered urgent perspectives on Floyd’s death.

Wise Children’s Emma Rice and Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris on stage at Bristol Old Vic in September

Elsewhere, Black Broadway and West End stars performed an ambitious online charity concert, organised by Nicole Raquel Dennis and Ryan Carter, this event supported the Black Lives Matter movement: Turn Up! Live at Cadogan Hall , raised nearly £13,000 for four charities and picked up a Black British Theatre Award.

One of my biggest treats was visiting Bristol to see the Romantics Anonymous one-night only performance, with a live socially distanced audience.

In September, Emma Rice’s Wise Children and Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris were dazzlingly inventive, partnering with venues to present a “digital tour” of the musical – allowing individual regional theatres to sell tickets across specific nights.

The shows will go on – in some tiers. The government’s post-lockdown plans give the green light to productions fortunate enough to find themselves in Tiers 1 and 2. Boris Johnson has announced that theatres in Tier 3 will remain closed.

Oracle Cameron Mackintosh

Villains? (Deep breath)

It was the year when theatre vanished from our lives. And Cameron Mackintosh didn’t.

Disappointingly, the West End producer got rid of 850 staff early on in the crisis, said theatres that received financial aid were ones that “were going to fail”, allegedly mistreats his staff, declared himself an “oracle” for predicting disaster and has been snow-ploughing his way through the darker recesses of the pandemic ever since.

Mind you, compensation came in the form of Andrew Lloyd Webber – who took part in the Oxford Coid-19 vaccine trial – joining TikTok.

Take a moment. I know I just did.

Perhaps most importantly, Arts Council England did a good job of turning around the government’s Culture Recovery Fund and rescued struggling organisations of all shapes and sizes.

Overall, that £1.57bn rescue fund has protected our theatres, concert halls, arts centres and opera houses.

Slytherin culture secretary Oliver Dowden’s intervention was not enough to save every institution and although we were all thankful for the money, financial models are bust.

Indeed, the government continue to do the bare minimum for an estimated three million self-employed workers. At one point, Pantomime dames marched to Parliament Square.

Slytherin Oliver Dowden and Rishi Sunak

Find another job, said the surefooted chancellor Rishi Sunak. By forgetting our workforce and dismissing an entire sector, the chancellor has begun to reveal his true ideological colours. But our sector is key to our national identity, provides hope – and billions for the Treasury.

On top of that idiocy, the suggestion from the government seems to be that arts jobs aren’t viable. They are, Mr Sunak, and when the time comes, the powerhouse theatre industry will play a crucial part in the nation’s recovery.

Above all, I was appalled by The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) who failed to inform customers how they could obtain cash refunds instead of hopeless credit vouchers. With countless shows axed or postponed, many found it impossible to get money back – not only that, ATG were not automatically refunding transaction fees, claiming this was in line with the industry’s Code of Practice (newsflash: it definitely wasn’t).

Birmingham Rep, The #LightItInRed campaign involved more than 500 buildings

At least, though, there has been some last-minute redemption for ATG; the operator has now furloughed its 2,500 casual staff and is gifting tickets for pantomimes to NHS workers this Winter, which is a Christmas miracle.

If we’re really looking for the individuals who’ll push theatre forward through the sheer force of their own imagination, in my opinion, they are more than likely to be creative freelancers. We must protect them.

And the self employed may be more widely visible through the Freelancers Make Theatre Work group, #thescenechangeproject and The Freelance Task Force. But they must never be taken for granted again.

The Theatre Artists Fund was set up to support UK theatre workers and freelancers falling into financial difficulty while theatres remain largely closed. Many freelancers have lost everything and we are losing thousands of highly skilled theatre-makers.

Saving buildings is pointless without protecting the people who make art. For now, I have financial security. That is why I plan to donate 50% of my December salary to Theatre Artists Fund.  If you are able to, so should you.

As I say, everyone has been doing their best. Stay present, thanks for reading this year, and Merry Christmas.

 

 

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Nimax Theatres to open West End theatres in sequence from 22 Oct with social distancing

Good news everyone: after the worst year in modern history, the owner of the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres will welcome audiences back to London after seven-months of closure, starting with the Apollo in October.

Nimax Chief Executive Nica Burns said: “I am delighted to announce we will be switching on all our lights and presenting a special season of fantastic entertainment.  First up at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave is This is Going to Hurt written and performed by ex-NHS doctor Adam Kay who will open his run with a free performance for NHS staff on 22 October.  Tickets will soon be on sale at www.nimaxtheatres.com as is registration for NHS staff to enter the ballot for their free performance.

Nica Burns

Our full programme of special shows will reopen each of our six venues prior to the return of our brilliant long running shows: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Palace theatre), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo theatre), Magic Goes Wrong (Vaudeville theatre), The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess theatre). Details on this special season of shows will be announced over the next fortnight.

All our venues will open with social distancing plus robust risk mitigation to comply with government COVID-19 Secure guidelines. Although with reduced capacities it is not possible to make a profit, we are determined retain Nimax’s highly skilled, experienced workforce alongside the huge, talented tapestry of freelancers onstage and backstage, plus the many teams and businesses which together give our audiences a night to remember. Our theatre community cannot wait to get back to work safely.

As culture secretary Oliver Dowden wrote this week, ‘…theatre is a lynchpin of London’s West End and its absence is painfully reflected in its deserted streets.’  Even with reduced capacities at our theatres, we can entertain over 20,000 customers a week who we hope will re-energise the beating heart of our city, particularly the cafes, bars and restaurants that are an essential part of the fabric of the West End. Ticket sales for those venues that have managed to open so far, both outdoor and indoor, have been strong and we look to the future with confidence.”


Adam Kay says:
“It’s extremely heartening that Theatreland is starting to gear up again. The people you see on stage are the very tip of the theatre iceberg – behind the scenes are hundreds of hard-working staff – from electricians to stage managers to lighting techs to box office to carpenters – huge numbers of whom fell between the gaps of government support. I’m very proud to return to the West End, following the extraordinary efforts of Nimax to do so in a way that’s safe for staff and theatregoers alike, and doubly proud to open the run with a free show for NHS staff, who can clearly do with a night out more than anyone.“


Why is Nimax opening at a loss?
Like all businesses, Nimax looked at their business strategy post 31 October when the furlough scheme ends.  As part of this, they looked at the financial and human cost of large-scale redundancies.  They preferred to put the potential redundancy monies towards employment rather than unemployment. When they then fully open, they will have their fantastic workforce in place saving the cost of recruiting again. With this plan Nimax will not be making a profit but will be earning a contribution to their costs post-furlough which will enable them to achieve 4 key aims:-

  • Jobs:  Save the jobs of Nimax’s experienced, highly skilled and valued full time theatre staff teams as well as central management staff teams. They will also be hiring front of house and performance staff. Total jobs 355 plus.In addition, a significant number of freelancers will benefit and freelance jobs will be created or reactivated: actors, musicians, creative teams, stage management, wardrobe plus affiliated sector businesses such as marketing, press and technical hire companies.Everyone in the theatre community is desperate to get back to work. Nimax Theatres would like to thank their fantastic staff team and all our freelancers who were working in their theatres. They would also like to thank the three theatre unions BECTU, Equity and the MU who are working collaboratively across our industry to help us reopen.
  • Assist the stimulation of London economy: Even at a reduced capacity, Nimax will be attracting a significant number of customers into the West End stimulating the local economy in our area, particularly cafes, bars and restaurants.
  • Fulfilling audience demand: Nimax will be helping to fulfil a pent up demand of audiences who wish to return to theatres as demonstrated by our (SOLT/UK Theatre) latest audience survey  from Morris Hargreaves and McIntyre,  where 72% of audiences surveyed said they were looking forward to the thrill of seeing something live. Nimax can’t wait to welcome audiences back to experience a fantastic night out.
  • Consumer confidence: Nimax want to help build up consumer confidence with a return to central London and indoor entertainment spaces. They are proud to display the new industry See it Safely mark to show that our venues are compliant with the latest government guidelines.

Why can Nimax Theatres open when other theatres cannot?

The economics of their business model: they are the smallest of the 4 large West End theatre owning companies.  The smaller the theatre and the shows it presents, the lower the costs.  Hamilton, The Lion King, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Cinderella are very expensive to run (both show and theatre) on a weekly basis.  Conversely, costs for The Play That Goes Wrong in Nimax’s smallest theatre, the 500 seat Duchess, are substantially lower.

Special reopening programming: Nimax will be presenting special programming to be announced separately prior to the re-opening of our long running shows.

These shows are:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Palace theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 21 February 2021

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo theatre) – performances are currently suspended until 11 November 2020

Magic Goes Wrong (Vaudeville theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 15 November 2020

The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess theatre) – performances are currently suspended until Sunday 18 October 2020

What help does the theatre sector need from the government?

For the theatre to survive, we need the following:

  • End of social distancing: to reopen as quickly and safely as possible without social distancing and at full capacity. As the larger shows take time to remount, we need a date as soon as possible.
  • Extension of the JRS and self-employed support schemes:  for theatres, businesses and freelancers who cannot open with social distancing.
  • Insurance: a scheme on the same lines as that already agreed with cinema and TV sector.

Asked about the return of pantomimes, Nica says: “We won’t be putting on a pantomime. [But] I know Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Harrison, our greatest panto producer, and I’m really hopeful that, oh yes, we will be going to the London Palladium at Christmas.”

There we have it.