Southampton: Nuffield Theatre goes into administration

Buyers are being sought for Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) after falling into financial difficulties because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The performing arts institution operated from two venues in Southampton and has attracted generations of families since opening 56 years ago.

Greg Palfrey and Steve Adshead, from the South Coast office of Smith & Williamson in Southampton, have been appointed joint administrators of award-winning NST.

They will be running the financial affairs of the independent theatre, which includes inviting expressions of interest from potential purchasers.

In line with all other theatres nationally, NST had to postpone or cancel all future performances following lockdown.

Palfrey, a licensed insolvency practitioner, is the national head of Restructuring and Recovery at Smith & Williamson, the financial and professional services group.

He said: “This is a sad day not only for Southampton, of which NST has been a venerable part of the city’s cultural fabric for more than half a century, but for the country’s theatreland in general.

“Our thoughts are with NST’s 80 staff, the vast majority of whom are furloughed and are understandably anxious about their jobs and NST’s future.

“We will do our best to sell the business and its assets, albeit in testing commercial conditions which have no parallel in modern British history.

“NST, in line with other performance venues, suddenly found itself with unprecedented pressure on cash flow in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak – a flood of refund requests and little in the way of advanced bookings.

“The government’s request on March 17 for the public not to attend theatres, to help prevent transmission, clearly impacted on their ability to trade.

“This bleak picture is reflected elsewhere – the sector reportedly experienced a 92% drop in advanced ticket sales as pandemic measures kicked in and the fact that there are no known reopening dates.

“However, NST is a well-respected theatre company, with a range of assets, that could survive and thrive.

“A buyer would need to be patient because no-one yet knows when theatres will reopen or how social distancing measures would impact upon seating and stage and therefore revenues.

“However, for the right person or company, this presents a rare opportunity to acquire one of the leading and long-established theatre brands in southern England.”

Palfrey added: “The NST’s Board took the difficult decision to place the company into administration following an independent review and the weak financial position and uncertainty regarding when and how the theatre would reopen.

“The Board stated that it regretted that this action had to be taken and is aware of the impact of this on independent artists and partner companies across the sector at this difficult time; it has kept Arts Council England informed. The Board remain hopeful that the City venue will be able to reopen to artists and the community alike in the future.”

NST operates at NST City, at Above Bar Street in Southampton City Centre, and, until recently, NST Campus, at the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.

NST City, in the city’s Cultural Quarter, opened in February 2018, includes a flexible 450-seat main house theatre, a 133-seat studio, screening facilities, rehearsal and workshop spaces and a bar and restaurant.

Dating back to 1964, NST Campus is temporarily closing as part of an extensive university refurbishment programme. It has a 500-seat auditorium, with a cafe and bar.