The West End moves to Buckinghamshire tonight (12 October 2010) as the country’s largest theatre owner, the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), inaugurates its 39th venue in the UK, the new £42 million Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, with a star-studded opening gala.

Cilla Black, who returns at Christmas in a £1 million pantomime production of Cinderella, will cut the ribbon to officially open the house before the 1,200-seater’s first professional performance, Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake. Other stars joining ATG’s husband-and-wife owners Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire on the red carpet for tonight’s black-tie event include Adam Cooper, David Suchet, Eddie Kulukundis, Eric Potts, Greg Dyke, Jonathan Wilkes, Richard O’Brien, Ruby Wax, Simon Callow, Susan Hampshire and Suzanne Shaw.


The new £42 million Aylesbury Waterside Theatre in Buckinghamshire

In addition to the main house, which can convert into a 1,800-standing capacity hall, the Waterside comprises a 200-seat studio space and a range of meeting rooms, public spaces and a waterfront cafe beside the town’s canal. The opening of the theatre, which aims to attract 300,000 visitors a year, marks the first step in a major regeneration project in Aylesbury.

Founded by Panter and Squire in 1992, ATG became the country’s largest theatre owner earlier this year, as well as one of its foremost theatre producers, after completing its purchase of Live Nation’s UK theatre portfolio of 16 venues nationwide. It employs over 4,000 people and has an annual turnover of almost £200 million.

ATG’s existing West End portfolio comprises: the Comedy, Donmar Warehouse, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy (both co-ownership and management of) and Trafalgar Studios. Its other regional theatres include the Ambassadors Woking; Theatre Royal Brighton; the Regent Theatre and the Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent; Milton Keynes Theatre; Churchill Theatre Bromley; Richmond Theatre, Surrey; the King’s Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow; and New Wimbledon Theatre.

On the production side, ATG presents work across the UK, in the West End and internationally. Its recent high-profile offerings include La Bete in the West End and on Broadway, and The Misanthrope, starring Damian Lewis and Keira Knightley. ATG also has a wholly owned subsidiary company, Sonia Friedman Productions, whose current and upcoming co-productions include Othello starring Lenny Henry, La Cage aux Folles and the West End premiere of Broadway import Legally Blonde. And it now also attains sole ownership of leading pantomime producers, First Family Entertainment.