Thursday, 25 January 2018

INTERVIEW: Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire DBE

Showbiz couple, Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire DBE, had a busy 2017 and we can expect more exciting announcements from them in 2018 as their latest venture Trafalgar Entertainment Group gathers momentum. The Group acquired the iconic West End theatre Trafalgar Studios in May 2017 and the event cinema distribution business Trafalgar Releasing (see our separate article) in February 2017 to add to their already considerable production interests. The year ended with the critically acclaimed opening of a new musical The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios now booking until 14th April (see our review), the announcement of the West End production of Lincoln Center Theatre show The King and I at the London Palladium in June 2018 directed by Bartlett Sher and another Australian production of The Rocky Horror Show in January 2018.

The couple built their formidable reputation over twenty five years. They acquired their first venue in Woking in 1992 and developed the Ambassador Theatre Group through a series of expert acquisitions into an organisation with 46 venues in UK, America and Australia together with production and ticketing interests. The step change came in 2009 with the acquisition of 16 venues from Live Nation for £90 million funded by investment from the private equity company Exponent. This ground-breaking move lead to the husband and wife team being named by The Stage as the most influential people in UK theatre for seven consecutive years from 2010 to 2016. Sir Howard is the creative force behind the partnership and Rosemary the business brain who in October 2014 was named overall winner at the UK Finals of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year - the first woman to win the award.

Pocket Size Theatre Blog was able to meet this couple and ask them about their plans as part of our own fifth anniversary celebrations.

What are your hopes and plans for 2018?
We have a number of exciting production projects in the pipeline – not only King and I and Rocky Horror Show but also the UK tours of Jersey Boys and Mary Stuart that will keep our production office busy. Apart from content development, we will be focusing on the transformation of Trafalgar Studios into two luxury boutique theatre venues and growing our interests in a network of live venues globally, together with ticketing and retail opportunities. 

As ever we will be hoping for full houses and audiences that go away happy and already planning their next visit! 

What do you hope to create with TEG that will differ from other theatre operators?
At the moment we are a nimble start-up with a peerless track record but our ambitions are global. Our key difference will be creating – in one organisation – a virtuous circle that moves from intellectual property and production to distribution through theatre venues and digital streaming to cinema networks.

Why were you so keen to bring The King and I to the West End this summer?
A chance to present the greatest musical from theatre’s golden age – it has a fantastic story, interesting characters, outstanding score, a Tony award-winning cast in Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe – it’s tipped to be London’s key theatrical event of 2018 for a reason. 

The Rocky Horror Show continues to be produced around the world forty five years after its opening in 1973, what is the secret of its phenomenal success? 
A good party is the same in 2017 as it was in 1973 – and this is the ultimate, larger-than-life party. Audiences know that they’re going to have a great time – they want to be part of something extraordinary by dressing up as the characters, singing along, participating in the customary “call-back” heckles. It’s a unique compliment to writer Richard O’Brien. 

When you are producing do you start with a script you like, a director
you want to work with, an actor who you think will sell or a venue to fill? Or is it like the song, it does not matter where you start but where you finish? 
If there was a “one size fits all” approach or a magic formula guaranteed to work on all productions, I think our lives would be much easier. In reality, we nearly always start with the script – is it a cracking good story, do we care what happens? But we also have to be pragmatic - sales targets, casting, venue availability to think of – it’s a tightrope. 

You acquired Trafalgar Releasing early last year, how do you see this business growing and supporting the live theatre business?
Trafalgar Releasing (formerly Picturehouse Entertainment) have had a lot of success recently in bringing special events to cinemas – David Gilmour Live At Pompeii streamed to 2500 screens in over 60 countries in 2017. We aim to develop the range of music and other live events we cover and significantly expand activities in the US where we have just opened an office. Trafalgar Releasing will support our theatre interests by stimulating attendances for live theatre and making our brand highly visible. We recently announced the broadcast of the London production of American in Paris to cinemas on 16th May 2018. 

How have social media and blogs like Pocket Size Theatre changed your business over recent years? 
Social media makes a two-way conversation with audiences much easier – our Twitter feed is useful for feedback on our work and makes really interesting reading (see Blogs also offer an individual view of what we do, not predetermined by the usual media channels. It’s the immediacy of these that has changed our business – we want to respond quickly. 

You recently supported the Stage Debut Awards. How important is finding new talent and new audiences to your plans and who do you think are the ones to watch in 2018?
It’s essential for the industry to encourage and nurture newcomers – both talent and audiences. For Trafalgar Entertainment Group, encouraging an extraordinary range of new discoveries is important for content development in the longer term and also for industry recognition. Our top tips for the ones to watch this year: Javaad Alipoor, associate director at the Crucible in Sheffield; Adam Penford artistic director at Nottingham Playhouse: and Michelle Terry artistic director of Globe on South Bank. 

This charming couple live and breathe theatre but also have time for bringing up their family and major charitable work. A remarkable balancing act and they still have the energy enthusiasm and ideas to build another global entertainment business. Definitely ones to watch in 2018. 

Interview by Nick Wayne
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