HQ Theatres (HQ) – part of premium international live entertainment business, Trafalgar Entertainment – has officially become the new operator of Cardiff’s New Theatre following the successful conclusion of a competitive bidding process run by Cardiff Council. HQ will sign over the lease for the building on Monday 16 August and is targeting a full reopening on Sunday 19 September.
The 115-year-old, 1,144 capacity Edwardian theatre becomes the 12th venue to be run by HQ Theatres, the UK’s largest specialist regional theatre operator. Lease arrangements under which HQ will operate the capital city theatre will run for 25 years and existing New Theatre staff will transfer to HQ’s employment.
The company’s plans will deliver continued programme development at the New Theatre and a significant investment designed to improve front-of-house areas and to protect, preserve and enhance the fabric of the theatre. The company also has plans to establish a dedicated Community and Education function to further embed the venue within the communities it serves – and has ambition to work with cultural, arts and entertainment organisations in the city in the development of a city-wide approach to programming.
The New Theatre will also be used as a launchpad for new shows, delivered through HQ’s relationships with the UK’s leading producers.
The agreement between HQ Theatres and Cardiff Council demonstrates a strong show of investor confidence in the cultural sector as it recovers from the sweeping economic effects of the pandemic which closed most venues for over a year. HQ won the bid for the New Theatre in 2019, but mobilisation plans have been put on hold during the course of the pandemic.
The New Theatre will reopen its doors on 19 September with a performance by Simon Amstell, followed in spectacular style with a glitzy red-carpet event and a performance of the international hit musical sensation, Priscilla Queen of the Desert from 20 September.
In March 2021, HQ Theatres was acquired by Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire’s Trafalgar Entertainment group – a leading force behind major theatre investment in the UK and internationally. Following major multi-million-pound investment, TE reopened London’s Trafalgar Theatre with Jersey Boys in July and unveiled its first boutique cinema complex in Chiswick London. The company is also set to open Sydney’s 1,200 seat Theatre Royal and recently announced plans to open the ground-breaking Olympia Theatre, the biggest new permanent theatre to open in London since the 1970s.
Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure at Cardiff Council, Cllr Peter Bradbury, said: “The New Theatre has thrilled audiences for 115 years creating many wonderful memories for generations of Cardiff theatregoers. So I’m delighted that we’ve been able to reach an agreement that safeguards jobs and the theatre’s future, ensuring many more generations will be entertained for many more years to come.
“HQ Theatres is one of the UK’s leading theatre operators and has already played a major part in the New Theatre’s success, producing Wales’ biggest pantomime there for the past 20 years through Qdos Entertainment. They understand Cardiff audiences and we are confident that knowledge and expertise will see the New Theatre flourish.
“I for one am excited to see the curtain rise on this new era at the New Theatre and, now that lockdown restrictions are being lifted, we eagerly await the re-opening of the New Theatre in September and wish the new operators every success.”
Julian Russell, Chief Executive of HQ Theatres said: “We’re thrilled to be taking on the operation of the New Theatre. This building is a jewel-in-the-crown of Cardiff and a venue that the whole of Wales can be proud of. Our aim is to build on the solid foundations at the theatre; to bring exciting new shows to the city, to develop audiences and to drive improvements in the customer experience – whilst respecting the rich history and excellent reputation that the venue enjoys.
“I’d pay tribute to the whole team at the New Theatre for their commitment, dedication and resilience through the past 16 months – and we’re truly excited to be embarking on this journey with them as we work to open the doors up again.”
Dame Rosemary Squire, Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Trafalgar Entertainment said: “We’re delighted to welcome Cardiff’s New Theatre to HQ Theatres’ portfolio of venues and to the wider Trafalgar Entertainment family of brands. The team at HQ have an excellent reputation across the UK as theatre specialists and operators and I congratulate Julian and his management team on completion of the deal.
“HQ Theatres will now deliver a thriving programme of world class productions and events with significant and sustained capital investment, greater community engagement and real expertise in operations and marketing. It’s a wonderful new era for this iconic Welsh venue.
“As the parent company, Trafalgar Entertainment is determined to help the return of live entertainment across the UK and we’ve all seen in recent weeks just how passionately audiences wanted to return to the unique magic that is live theatre, with sold out performances across our other venues. We now look forward to welcoming audiences back to the New Theatre when we reopen the doors in September.”