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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Making theatre work at the box office
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter

Rosemary Squire
Ms Squire is at the forefront of developing new audiences
As part of a series of interviews and features focusing on the theatre industry, the BBC News website talks to Rosemary Squire, executive director of the Ambassador Theatre Group.

Rosemary Squire is passionate about panto.

As co-founder of the Ambassador group, Ms Squire oversees 24 theatres across the UK with productions including West End musical Guys and Dolls and the forthcoming As You Desire Me, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins.

This year the company will launch its first in-house pantomime productions with stars including Simon Callow and Richard Wilson, in conjunction with Clear Channel.

"For most people in this country, pantomime is still the first time that they go to the theatre," says Ms Squire.

"You can have good pantomime and you can have terrible pantomime, but every regional theatre has panto at Christmas."

"It is a genre that's unique to this country."

The fact that there was good theatre in Nottingham certainly changed my life
Rosemary Squire

Growing up in a village outside Nottingham, Ms Squire's own interest in theatre was sparked by the potent cocktail of Richard Eyre and the Nottingham Playhouse in the 1970s.

"The fact that there was good theatre in Nottingham certainly changed my life," says Ms Squire.

"I vividly remember, as an argumentative 16-year-old, the young Richard Eyre coming to my school - in the days when artistic directors came out to schools - and me haranguing him about the price of programmes."

"I never particularly wanted to act or perform," she adds. "I guess my skills were organisational, administrative and financial - I was always treasurer," says Ms Squire.

"But I loved the work, and I understood how important it was."

"If I'm evangelical about something, it would be improving the quality of regional theatre in this country."

James Nesbitt
James Nesbitt stars in Shoot the Crow, a rare new work for the West End

Juggling artistic sensibilities with commercial interests is a talent that Ms Squire has put to good use.

Since joining Ambassador in 1997, she has spearheaded the company's phenomenal expansion, adding 17 theatres to the group's portfolio in the past six years.

Earlier this week the group acquired its 11th theatre in the West End, when it jointly purchased the 1,200-seat Savoy Theatre, with a view to producing more large-scale musicals along the lines of Guys and Dolls.

She describes the London productions as "a bit like having a shop window".

"In London you are competing with the whole of the West End - so you need to find a combination of subject matter that appeals, and casting that people want to see."

"A lot of our London theatres are playhouses, which only attract tourists with English as a first language, so we are looking to diversify." says Ms Squire.

"Celebrity casting definitely helps."

Zoe Hardman and Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls
Squire hopes to repeat the success of Guy and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre

"When you get a star like Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls you will sell out, but it's not very often that a huge international star like Ewan wants to do stage work for seven months of his career."

"It's a question of getting the appropriate casting with the appropriate material," citing the new play Shoot The Crow, starring James Nesbitt, who was in ITV1 hit series Cold Feet.

As newly-elected president of Society of London Theatres (SOLT), Ms Squire is also keen to push forward plans for Sunday opening in the West End.

Despite the technicians' union Bectu reaching agreement on Sunday opening earlier this year, there are still issues to be ironed out with actors' union Equity.

The union has hoping to win their members an additional payment on top of current salaries in return for working on a Sunday.

I'm not remotely in the art for art's sake camp
Rosemary Squire

"Sunday opening is certainly one of my priorities," says Ms Squire, who became only the second woman to head SOLT in June.

"Even with the limited hours, Sunday is still the second busiest trading day of the week in retail."

"The reality is that times have changed, and people want to spend their leisure time going to the cinema and theatre."

Some shows, such as The Lion King and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, are already showing on Sunday.

"It took time on Broadway, but now the second most important performance of the week is the Sunday matinee. I think it will happen here too."

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