DUKES & AMBASSADORS AT COURT

The Royal Court Theatre closes next fall to begin a two-year renovation and expansion at a cost of $32 million. About 75% of the funding is being supplied by Lottery money, the rest from subsidy and private sponsors.

The company will have two temporary West End homes, taking up residence at the Ambassadors Theatre while launching a second season of Royal Court Classics down the road at the Duke of York’s. Both houses are owned by producer Howard Panter’s Duke of York’s Theatre Holdings Ltd.

How will the company’s wonderful Theatre Upstairs – a malleable black box seating 60 or so people – transfer to the gilded Edwardian curvature of the Ambassadors, which seats 443? The answer, artistic director Stephen Daldry told the press Dec. 8, lies in his love of spatial reconfiguration. Guided by designer William Dudley, who devised the arena setting for Daldry’s recent “Rat in the Skull” revival, the Royal Court will spend some $155,000 to re-fit the Ambassadors – losing two-thirds of its seats in the process to gain greater intimacy.

What theater owner ever looked on happily as his seating capacity was reduced! Panter sees the company’s two-year lease on his property as part of an ongoing attempt “to create a more flexible Off Broadway space” in the West End, and compared the hoped-for result to the nearby Donmar Warehouse.

“It’s been very hard in the last five years to do plays in small houses,” says Panter. “This is about higher-caliber people creating hopefully higher-caliber work.”

Panter has an unexpected American partner for this and simultaneous suburban purchases in New York-based Pace Theatrical Group Inc., investors in such Panter productions as the Pauline Collins vehicle, “Shades.”

“We felt it would be beneficial to our business plans in the future if we could expand internationally,” says Miles Wilkin, Pace chief operating officer. “The opportunities for acquisition in the U.K. are far greater than they are in New York.”

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