Nuffield Southampton Theatres to close

Greg Palfrey, National Head of Restructuring and Recovery at Smith & Williamson
Greg Palfrey, National Head of Restructuring and Recovery at Smith & Williamson

Long-established theatre operator Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) is to permanently close after potential buyers were unable to meet conditions set by stakeholders.

Greg Palfrey and Steve Adshead, from the South Coast office of Smith & Williamson in Southampton, were appointed joint administrators of NST in May after the venue experienced financial difficulties due to the pandemic.

Smith & Williamson received 30-plus expressions of interest, with 19 non-disclosure agreements signed before applications were whittled down to four potential buyers.

Joint administrator Greg Palfrey, National Head of Restructuring and Recovery at Smith & Williamson and based in the firm’s South Coast office, 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.”

In a joint statement, Southampton City Council, Arts Council England and University of Southampton said: “Having carefully considered the applications we received against the parameters agreed in our shared criteria for a future operator for Studio 144, we concluded that none demonstrated the level of sector and local knowledge, business sustainability or strategic experience required to deliver a resilient and collaborative model for the communities of Southampton, and all contained a significant level of risk.

“Therefore, we have unfortunately not been able to progress discussions with any of the parties. We continue to work together as stakeholders on an alternative, sustainable resolution that builds on the city’s cultural ambitions and benefits its communities.”

In line with all other theatres nationally, NST had to postpone or cancel all future performances following lockdown. This created severe cash flow issues, with staff furloughed while its future was decided.

Mr Palfrey added: “We brought serious buyers to the table in a challenging market; the final decision rested with stakeholders. We did everything we could to keep NST alive.”

NST operated at NST City and, until recently, NST Campus at the University of Southampton’s Highfield Campus.

NST City opened in February 2018; Studio 144 comprises 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 closed as part of an extensive university refurbishment programme. There is a 500-seat auditorium, with a cafe and bar.

Mr Palfrey said all NST equipment and props at NST Campus were transferred to NST City - they will be sold off to help pay creditors.

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