Cameron Mackintosh to Rename London's Ambassadors Theatre for Stephen Sondheim

By Mark Shenton
22 May 2014

Cameron Mackintosh
Cameron Mackintosh

Cameron Mackintosh has added two more West End theatres to his theatrical stable, with the acquisition of the Victoria Palace and Ambassadors Theatres, bringing his theatre-owning portfolio (under the group name Delfont Mackintosh) to nine venues. Major redevelopment plans have been announced for both, with the Ambassadors being renamed the Sondheim Theatre.



The Victoria Palace, which Delfont Mackintosh will take over in June, will be significantly improved, with a projected closure for about a year from the fall of 2016 to tie in with surrounding redevelopment work in the area. The current tenant at the theatre is the original production of Billy Elliot. The stage will be extended by six meters, the front of house enlarged and completely overhauled and the auditorium and exterior restored to its full glory.

The Ambassadors Theatre, currently home to Stomp, will be taken over by 2015, with radical architectural and creative plans to forge a new role for the theatre as a receiving house for extended seasons of new productions from the subsidized sectors in London and the regions. It is intended to completely rebuild the auditorium, subject to planning permission, to create a non-proscenium stage which mirrors many companies' own performance spaces.



In a press statement, Mackintosh stated, "I am delighted to have the opportunity to take over stewardship of the Victoria Palace Theatre from Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen. I consider its auditorium one of Matcham’s finest, with a remarkable fusion of intimacy and scale, a gloriously rich décor and perfect sight lines from every seat.  Despite hosting many long running hits including Buddy, Annie and the current Billy Elliot, the theatre’s shallow stage has meant that it can’t accommodate many of the big shows that might have played there."





He continued, "What really made the Victoria Palace irresistible to me is that Stephen has imaginatively seized the opportunity arising from the major building development taking place all around the theatre to obtain planning consent to extend the stage and front of house areas. This means that the full potential of the theatre can be realised with one of the best stages in the West End, ensuring it will become one of London’s most desirable and, thanks to the Victoria Station expansion scheme, strategically sited musical houses. With planning already approved in principle, we intend to close the theatre for about a year from late 2016, in order to tie the work into the rest of the exterior development. This purchase will take place over the next few weeks."



Regarding the Ambassadors Theatre, he said, "Separately, I have also agreed with Stephen to take over the Ambassadors Theatre, renaming it The Sondheim Theatre. This is subject to obtaining the necessary planning consents and is intended to take place in early 2015. My plan is to completely rebuild the auditorium in order to fulfill a long standing dream for the West End to have a transfer house primarily for seasons of exciting productions from theatres in the subsidized sector seeking a non-proscenium environment that mirrors their own stages."

He added, "I am hoping these will come both from London and the regions and to this end we will be providing a glamorous 450 seat studio environment that will be appropriate whilst removing the need for a costly restaging to suit a proscenium theatre. We will be creating a contemporary auditorium inspired by the original theatre architect, William Sprague, complementing the original features of the building much as I did when I rebuilt the interior of the Prince of Wales theatre 11 years ago. That subsequently transformed that theatre’s fortunes reopening with Mamma Mia! and now The Book of Mormon. In the front of house areas we will be retaining as much as possible of the original Sprague plasterwork - being a great admirer of his work I have already restored five other of his beautiful theatres in the West End.  The foyer and front-of-house facilities will also be much improved and enlarged.  I am delighted that Stephen Sondheim has agreed to allow me to name the new theatre after him."

Current owner Stephen Waley-Cohen commented, "For the Victoria Palace there can be no better next owner than Cameron Mackintosh. He will ensure that the great enlargement and modernisation of facilities back-stage and front of house are implemented to create a Matcham Theatre for the 21st Century. 
I have been privileged to have stewardship of it for almost 25 years, and thank all the staff I have worked with to create the improvements we have already achieved, as well as the producers who have brought such successful shows. For the Ambassadors Theatre, provided planning consent is obtained for Cameron’s wonderful plans to create the Sondheim Theatre, this will be a shining example of how imaginative re-thinking can ensure a vibrant future for a historic theatre. Until this happens, Stomp will continue its very successful run, and we will welcome back the National Youth Theatre for a second repertory season this autumn."



Stephen Sondheim, who already has a Broadway house named after him (formerly the Henry Miller), stated, "I am flattered and thrilled that Cameron Mackintosh has chosen to rename The Ambassadors Theatre after me.  What I’ve always loved about London theater is its diversity, much of which is the result of work developed in so-called 'fringe theatre' and in non-traditional spaces. Most of those shows, for financial and practical reasons, have limited runs as well as limited audiences. What Cameron is supplying is a transfer house for seasons of those productions, a way of prolonging their lives and allowing them to be seen by an expansive variety of audiences – something, I should add, as much needed in New York as in London.  To have my name attached to such a vivifying contribution to British theatre is an honour as well as a thrill."



The two new acquisitions will join a portfolio that currently comprises the Prince Edward Theatre, Prince of Wales Theatre, Novello Theatre, Queen’s Theatre, Gielgud Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre and Noël Coward Theatre.