Interviews

Rosemary Squire on growing the broad base of Trafalgar Entertainment – and building the largest musical theatre in decades

Squire reflected reaching 100 years in showbusiness alongside Howard Panter

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Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire at the opening of their Theatre Royal Sydney venue, © James Morgan

Rosemary Squire and Howard Panter may have reached 100 years in the entertainment business between them, but they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

The duo, who have run Trafalgar Entertainment since 2017 and were previously co-founders of Ambassador Theatre Group in the late ’80s and early ’90s, were awarded the Freedom of the City of London late last week to mark their contributions to the area. But they have a whole raft of new strategies and projects afoot as they continue to grow Trafalgar and its various arms.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the century mark doesn’t mean a chance to celebrate and reflect. Chatting on the phone with Squire, she admitted they twigged they were reaching the milestone towards the end of 2023: “It crossed our minds towards the end of last year, and we decided it would be foolhardy to mark the moment during panto season. Twenty two Christmas shows was enough to be getting on with.”

Seven years on from its beginnings, Trafalgar is really carving out a solid and entrenched space in the global arts industry, with venues in the UK and Australia and work being produced on multiple continents. Squire maps it out: “Trafalgar is very different to what we built with ATG. Yes, the live and the content piece is at the heart of the business, and heart of what we did at the ATG, Trafalgar is more broad based – we have the education business, we have the live broadcast business, which operates in over 100 countries.

“I love that it makes art, like the Metropolitan Opera or the RSC, accessible to anybody. If you live in Inverness and can’t afford to go down to the Royal Opera House, you can see it for an affordable price at your local cinema. That’s a great thing. It’s a different experience, but it’s fantastic.”

One example of this broadcast plan in action was Trafalgar’s work on Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Eras tour, which the company helped bring into cinemas when ticket touts were charging thousands for Swifties to attend sell-out events in person.

Trafalgar’s running of regional theatres, including the portfolio of venues from HQ Theatres they have managed since 2021, comes at a time of increased turbulence for the nation. But that also brings opportunity, and a chance for organisations like Trafalgar to assist beleagured local authorities trying to balance the books, Squire explains: “Our arts education business – made up of Stage Coach and Drama Kids – is a great thing to provide as so few schools across the UK offer music, acting or dance, as they can’t afford to.

“These kids come to professional theatres to learn teamwork, to learn about presentation, and it’s great fun. For parents, it means their children are off their phones for a few hours every week. Of course, the kids might not want to eventually become actors, very few end up actually doing so, but they’ve got great skills for life, no matter what they choose to do. It gives you confidence if you’ve learnt how to present, perform and navigate a space.”

Trafalgar Education does also feed into a wider talent pipeline: “If you go to see The King and I at the Dominion (another Trafalgar production), a load of the kids in that started through Stage Coach – and now they’re on a West End stage. Acting, singing and dancing should all be firm parts of the curriculum in my view – going to see a play in Nottingham when I was young was what changed my life forever.”

One of Panter and Squire’s venues is currently being constructed – “it’s coming out of the ground rapidly!” – Kensington’s Olympia Theatre in west London. With ambitious plans, Squire seems sure it’ll be a go-to destination for both those across the area and further afield: “it’s a beautiful, large venue… this will be a 1500+ seat musical theatre with great foyer space, bars, views over London, transport links and all the fabulous facilities that you need in the 21st century. I think it’ll be another 18 months or so before it’s ready to go, but it’s getting there!” As for the first production in the space, “obviously it will be a large scale musical, but I can’t say what it is just yet.”

Exciting plans are afoot across the board – the developmental run of the Clueless musical has proved incredibly fruitful, while the venue’s flagship West End venue, the Trafalgar Theatre, will soon host the return of one of the best new plays of the century. As for cinema broadcasts, a major play revival from last year will likely be gracing the big screen soon – though details are being kept firmly under wraps.

Before that, of course, will be the Adrian Dunbar and Stephanie J Block-led Kiss Me, Kate, running at the same venue where Anything Goes proved a major hit in 2021. Arguably, 100 years feels like it’s only a prologue for what’s to come for Squire and Panter.

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Kiss Me, Kate

Performances begin: 04 June 2024