Dozens of theatre staff made redundant after administrators fail to find buyer

A city theatre will not be reopening following the lockdown after administrators failed to find viable buyers for its two venues.

Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) was forced to close its sites because of the Covid-19 lockdown, causing severe cash flow problems and leading to its staff being furloughed and the company to go into administration.

Now administrators Smith and Williamson have announced that negotiations with four potential buyers have fallen through and the theatres located in the centre of the Hampshire city and at the University of Southampton will be closed permanently leading to 86 people being made redundant.

Greg Palfrey, national head of restructuring and recovery, said: “This is a sad day for the theatre industry in the UK, bringing the final curtain down on nearly 60 years of history of NST as a venerable performing arts institution in Southampton.

“Regrettably, we have no choice but to make all 86 staff redundant, bar a handful retained in the short term to help with us with the administration, as NST can no longer be sold as a going concern.

“Our thoughts are very much with employees and their families, as well as freelance artists and theatre makers.

“As administrators we worked with NST’s key stakeholders – Southampton City Council, Arts Council England and University of Southampton – to find the best possible outcome.

“The four shortlisted applications were serious about buying NST but were unable to satisfy the stakeholders’ criteria for a future operator of Studio 144, which was home to NST City at Southampton’s Cultural Quarter.”

Playwright James Graham posted on Twitter: “Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre is closing for good. 60yrs of investment, training & serving its community. All profitable in normal times, just needed shortfall funding while closed & it didn’t come in time

“So sorry to the 86 made redundant, & the locals who loved their theatre.”

Sam Hodges, NST chief executive officer, posted: “It’s appalling that the hard work that was just starting to grow shoots in our new theatre has been so brutally cut short.”

But he added: “Whilst no buyer has been approved through the formal administration process, this doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the Nuffield Theatre as a cultural entity in the heart of the city.

“Conversations are ongoing between stakeholders and interested parties and there is hope yet.”

In a joint statement, Southampton City Council, Arts Council England and the University of Southampton said that the potential buyers failed to provide a “resilient and collaborative model” and lacked “experience” in the theatre sector.

They said: “We continue to work together as stakeholders on an alternative, sustainable resolution that builds on the city’s cultural ambitions and benefits its communities.”

The NST City theatre opened in 2018 and includes a 450-seat main house theatre and a 133-seat studio with rehearsal and workshop facilities.

The campus 500-seat theatre dated back to 1964 but had closed recently as part of a refurbishment programme at the university.

Props and equipment from the two theatres will be sold off to help pay creditors, Mr Palfrey said.

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