If you spent the last year following the endeavours of Dame Rosemary Squire and Sir Howard Panter, you'd hardly be able to spot the point at which the pandemic affected their plans – with shows touring worldwide, new acquisitions and venue transformations, the pair, formerly owners of ATG and now heads of Trafalgar Entertainment (founded in 2017), have been relentless in visions across the globe.
Sitting down to talk earlier this year, it's clear that a central part of the pair's ambitions for Trafalgar Entertainment is the opening of their first Australian venue – Theatre Royal Sydney. Squire explains: "One of the reasons we wanted a foothold in Australia is that it's a great place to create work and then go out into South East Asia. Australia really punches above its weight and radiating out from there into the Asia-Pacific market feels like a strong move."
It's also all about timing, as Panter adds: "What will be apparent when we announce our first season at Theatre Royal Sydney (set to be unveiled soon) is that we've been able to attract the kind of creatives, director and actors, that you'd expect to see on Broadway or in the West End in 2021. We've been able to say to producers and freelancers: 'we can't put a date on Broadway, but we can put a date on Australia'. No one else can say that with certainty."
The pair are also setting their sights on presenting work in India: Squire reveals that the Trafalgar Entertainment productions of The King and I and Anything Goes will both be staged in Mumbai. Panter lays out the thinking: "India has got wonderful theatres there that haven't had a single Western show. The country's most used language is English, not Hindi, which is also a huge advantage". There's a real opportunity for Trafalgar to really make a mark, he emphasises: "It's the largest democracy in the world – and we've never done any theatre there!"
It's all about creating what he describes as a "global distribution network. It's been adhoc over the years."
A bit closer to home, the pair also have two cockle-warming musicals heading for the stage in the summer – Jersey Boys makes its West End return, while Anything Goes will sail onto the Barbican stage. According to Squire, it's all about returning to that shared experience: "I've watched more TV in the last year than in my entire life before, and I just can't wait to be there and feel the shared love, the in-take of breath and the pathos – which you can only get with a live audience."
Fans of Jersey Boys will also have something new to look forward to when the production reopens the revamped Trafalgar Theatre, Panter teases: "It was always planned that alongside our American partners we'd create a bespoke version of Jersey Boys which would work in that space – so that audiences can feel right up close."
What's also interesting, according to the pair, is that pent up demand has translated into big sales – not only in terms of number of seats sold, but also in terms of the customers wanting the best seats in the house. As the pair put it: "People who want to see theatre want to be close to it – the front seats are really outselling the middle at the moment. That's a change we've not seen before."
They don't stop there – the pair's most recent decision to acquire HQ Theatres – a chain of 11 regional venues including Churchill Theatre in Bromley and the Orchard Theatre in Dartford – is another major statement of intent that bodes particularly well for the theatre community.
It ties into Panter and Squire's firm belief that our theatre eco-system is a wide, interwoven network which is far from shackled to the capital.