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Bring curtain down on decrepit West End venues

Impresario behind Britain’s largest theatre group says many are no longer fit for purpose

Most West End theatres are “not fit for purpose” and should be replaced, the head of the UK’s largest theatre owner has claimed, following the Apollo theatre ceiling collapse.

Howard Panter, chief executive of the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), said that some theatres which are now 100 years old were never intended to last that long.

Mr Panter, whose ATG group owns 40 venues in the UK and on Broadway, said the UK should follow the example of New York’s theatre capital.

A number of Broadway theatres had been demolished and rebuilt “without any diminution of values or standards”, Mr Panter said. His comments follow the ceiling collapse last December at the Apollo theatre, operated by Nimax Theatres, when plaster plummeted on to the stalls below, leaving 80 people injured at a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Too many London theatres were not equipped to cater for modern-day audiences, said Mr Panter, who topped The Stage’s list of the most influential figures in UK theatre, alongside his wife Rosemary Squire, co-founder of ATG.

“The trouble is, there will never be enough room in those buildings for enough leg space, enough bar space, enough showers for artists, whatever it might be. There simply won’t,” Mr Panter told the International Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference in London. Mr Panter, who owns 11 West End theatres, said he was not advocating a widespread destruction of London’s historic venues but said their refurbishment was essential.

“This is not about taking away theatre, it’s about making theatres better in the theatre capital of the world,” he added.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has also spoken about the “shocking” state of West End theatres. He had called for the demolition of the Apollo years before the collapse.

Westminster Council has indicated that ancient building materials were the “principal cause” of the incident.

Mr Panter and Mrs Squire bought their first West End theatre, the Duke of York’s, in 1992. ATG has grown to be the world’s largest live-theatre group with a total of 40 venues in the UK and on Broadway. Its West End venues include the Harold Pinter Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse.

The ATG, which has theatres in Australia and the Far East, was “actively working on” acquisitions and projects in Seoul, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong, Mr Panter disclosed.

“In Korea we have a site and two Korean partners and our intent is to build a new theatre there,” he said.