The new team running Peterborough’s former Broadway Theatre have promised they will work hard to rebuild trust in the iconic venue after customers were previously left out of pocket.
Selladoor Worldwide takes over the sub-lease of the newly renamed Peterborough New Theatre in September and has big long-term plans, with promises of West End productions coming to the city.
And the global theatre company’s co-founders hope the excitement of seeing some A-listers come to Peterborough will encourage cynical customers to put their hands in their pockets once again despite the venue’s troubled past.
Selladoor’s chief executive David Hutchinson and chief financial officer Phillip Rowntree founded the company a decade ago after meeting at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
Selladoor is now one of the biggest producers of theatre shows which tour both nationally and internationally. Current productions include Avenue Q, Fame and Madagascar The Musical, while previous shows have included Jersey Boys, The Producers and Big Fish, which starred Kelsey Grammar.
Speaking to the Peterborough Telegraph, Mr Rowntree said: “We’ve got a history with our touring shows of providing star names that go on tour, and we can absolutely be expecting to bring those profiles here.”
Mr Hutchinson said: “It’s massively exciting. We’re coming into it with a mixture of excitement while understanding the level of work we’re going to have to do to really develop this building into all it could and shall be.”
Selladoor is sub-leasing the theatre from the Dawe Charitable Trust, which leases it from owner Rinaldo Fasulo.
Ironically, the company’s interest in the theatre in Broadway was sparked after its show Avenue Q was cancelled due to the theatre’s previous management company Performance Art Ventures C.I.C - led by Mark Ringer - running into major financial difficulties.
So Mr Hutchinson and Mr Rowntree are under no illusions about the difficulty they will have in convincing once (or twice) bitten customers to return in the future.
Mr Rowntree said: “It’s going to be a lot of hard work and we’re not blind to that fact.
“As a company that lost a show in this theatre - us and our stakeholders lost money that we had invested in that particular week - we have to rebuild trust.
“There’s two ways we can do that. We have control over the content that we can bring to this theatre. We’re leading from the front with that content. We’re not going to risk our 10-year-old business without some confidence in our ability to reach an audience here.
“The second is by putting on shows in this venue, we send a signal to people like Bill Kenwright and to other producers that ‘we have confidence in this theatre, you can have confidence too’.
“Having spoken to a number of people I can understand why perhaps people don’t book their tickets in advance, but as soon as they realise shows are happening and are continuing, then I think that advance booking will pick up and people will come and see the shows they want to see.”
Mr Hutchinson added: “We know by saying ‘here we are’, the person that lost money on a previous event that didn’t happen, just because we are a different face and had nothing to do with the previous operation, that’s not enough. So we do have to rebuild that trust.”
Bill Kenwright has previously put on two series of West End shows in Peterborough which were well attended, while Selladoor’s co-owners have seen data showing a high proportion of visitors to one of their shows in the West End were from Peterborough - highlighting the audience there is here to watch top-end performances.
Mr Rowntree and Mr Hutchinson are promising music, comedy, drama and pantomimes will all be part of the programme at the 1,100 seat venue beginning this autumn, although other events will take place before.
Moreover, there is an intent to revamp the dining experience at the theatre, as well as make better use of the Broadway Suite.
Mr Rowntree said: “What we are trying to do is really improve the audience experience.
“The biggest thing that people will notice with this theatre is not only how we will advertise the shows - we have a wonderful display board - but also the daytime offering of food and drinks.
“What we want to do is reinvigorate the space so that it’s a nice place to sit and have a drink before a show, but also that it’s a different experience from what you can have at your local Wetherspoon’s or a bar down the road.”
And for people worried that they may lose their money once again, Mr Rowntree pointed out that Selladoor is a member of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers.
He added: “Anyone that buys a ticket for our shows, that money is deposited into a separate account. It’s kept safe and not released to the venue until the sale has matured.
“We have a business that’s been running for the last 10 years and multiple sites. There is a security to our business that perhaps has not existed in previous administrations. And we are in full control of that box office which is not outsourced anywhere else.”
Timeline of past problems at the Broadway
. January 2009 - a fire devastated the theatre, forcing it to close. Arsonists were blamed but no one was ever arrested.
. February 2011 - the theatre reopened under Paul Coxwell. However, within months a number of directors left the firm, and by August there had been no shows put on for a month, with ticketholders turning up for performances greeted by locked doors.
. August 2014 - Coxwell (also known as Paul Parker), who was already a convicted fraudster, was jailed after admitting a £1 million fraud.
. November 2016 - Despite West End supremo Bill Kenwright staging highly successful 2013 and 2015 winter seasons at the Broadway, plans were submitted to Peterborough City Council to transform the theatre into 67 apartments.
. July 2017 - Peterborough City Council unsuccessfully attempted to buy the theatre. Instead, it was leased to entrepreneur Peter Dawe, who two months earlier had unsuccessfully stood to be the first Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
Mr Dawe brought in Mark Ringer, who had run the popular Willow Festival in the city, to run the operations side of the theatre.
. August 2018 - Performance Art Ventures C.I.C (PAV), the company run by Mr Ringer which was sub-leasing the theatre, had its sub-lease terminated after running into financial difficulties. Shows we cancelled, leaving many ticketholders out of pocket, while PAV owed Peterborough City Council £68,000 in business rates.
Promoters of shows which had taken place at the theatre also claimed they had not been paid in full.