Live entertainment company Trafalgar Entertainment (TE), co-founded in 2017 by British impresario Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire, has won the tender to operate Sydney’s Theatre Royal, signing a 55-year sublease from the New South Wales Government.

It is planned that the Theatre Royal, which has been closed since 2016, will reopen in August 2021 as part of the redeveloped MLC Centre owned by Dexus. The venue will provide the cornerstone for TE’s Asia-Pacific operation.

An artist’s impression of the redeveloped Theatre Royal, MLC Centre (viewed from King Street)

Trafalgar outbid a number of other theatre producers and owners, with expressions of interest from Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Stephen and Angela Found’s Foundation Theatres (which operates Sydney’s Lyric Theatre and Capitol Theatre), and Michael Cassel, the producer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Melbourne.

Trafalgar Entertainment has produced stage shows in Australia. It recently co-produced the National Theatre’s War Horse in Sydney, while previous productions include Guys and Dolls, West Side Story and The Rocky Horror Show among others.

The Theatre Royal is Sydney’s oldest theatre. It has been on the same site since 1875, though the current building was constructed in 1976. The theatre will now be refurbished, with renovations scheduled to get underway in December or January. It will retain its current seating capacity of 1180 seats, but the staging, auditorium seating and foyer areas will be upgraded.

The Theatre Royal development will be led by Tim McFarlane, TE’s Executive Chairman Asia Pacific, and Torben Brookman, the theatre’s new CEO.

Sir Howard has made a commitment to premiere productions at the theatre where possible with “Sydney Gets it First” as the company’s byline. The Theatre Royal will also act as a hub for live-streaming of theatre content, and extensive community and educational engagement via TE’s subsidiaries, which include cinema distributor Trafalgar Releasing and Stagecoach, an international provider of extra-curricular creative arts education for young people.

NSW Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres and TE Executive Chairman Asia Pacific Tim McFarlane in the Theatre Royal with a ghost light. Photograph © Murray Harris

Sir Howard and Dame Rosemary, who are the joint CEOs of TE, said: “In these difficult times, this is very good news for Sydney, New South Wales and for the future of live entertainment. We would like to pay tribute to the farsightedness and confidence of the NSW Government. We believe that TE has something special to offer and look forward to working alongside our new partners in this exciting enterprise. Like so many, our industry is enduring highly challenging circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, looking to the future, we believe that live entertainment and the creative industries will have a crucial part to play in recovery and renewal.”

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment and Tourism, Stuart Ayres, said: “Trafalgar Entertainment is one of the world’s leading live entertainment operators and I am thrilled they want to expand their incredible success story to NSW. Reopening the Theatre Royal will ignite our night-time economy and add vibrancy to our city – this is a very big deal for Sydney.”

Ayres welcomed TE’s “Sydney first” strategy saying, “Reopening the theatre will ensure NSW is the first home for a number of international productions, before any other state – this reaffirms our position as number one in Australia for musical theatre.”

Since the seating capacity of the Theatre Royal will remain at 1180 seats, the longstanding need for a 1500-seat theatre in Sydney for commercial productions will still need to be addressed.