The Broadway: under new management

For years the Broadway Theatre – first opened as the Odeon Cinema in 1937 – has had an uncertain future. Despite runs of hit shows produced by Bill Kenwright, the building had largely stood empty, until finally this year plans were laid to convert it into luxury flats. Then came a dramatic turnaround. This July, Mark Ringer, founder of The Willow Festival, signed a 20-year lease on the building, backed by the Dawe Charitable Trust. The plan? To build a seven-day-a week programme of theatre productions, live music, cinema, comedy and other events within two years – starting this September. Toby Venables talked to Mark Ringer about how it came about, and what’s in store.

Many people will know you from the major local events that you have done – The Willow Festival in particular – but how did this particular opportunity come about?
It started four years ago, really. The Broadway was coming to the end of being run on a regular basis, and at the time I went to see the owner, Rinaldo Fasulo, to find out if I could get involved. I’d already put on a couple of shows in there, and I just thought it was a great venue that needed saving, and that so much could be done with it. At that time I had some backers, but it never quite came off. But I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since. Then, about six months ago, Peter Dawe contacted me completely out of the blue. I didn’t know him, but he was running for mayor at the time, and whilst outlining his ambitions for Peterborough asked me what I thought the city needed. A university was number one. I also felt the city would benefit from a large-scale music event such as The Willow Festival had provided. Third was The Broadway. At that time there was a plan to convert the building into 67 flats, which would mean that facility being lost to the city forever. After an hour’s conversation he said: ‘Go and get the theatre!’ I went and talked to Rinaldo to see what his position was. At the time he wasn’t interested in any approaches, but I told him that if he changed his mind to let me know, and that I’d like him to meet Peter Dawe. A couple of weeks later, he called and said: ‘Let’s talk!’ We met, and within about half an hour he was decided that we would take on the theatre.

Peter Dawe is known as an entrepreneur. Did he put resources behind that bid?
He hasn’t used his finances, but he has used his financial clout. He’s basically put me in a position where we can become the operating company, and I’m hoping that in the first 12-24 months that we will buy the premises outright. I’m leasing it initially, but the plan is for me to end up the sole owner of the building, so I can save it for the city.

Did it surprise you, that call out of the blue?
I’ve seen a lot of false starts to various ventures over the years, so initially I was very wary. But Peter has been completely true to his word. One of the things he does is help people set up businesses and achieve business successes, and he has a charity – The Dawe Charitable Trust – which those businesses pay money into, and which is then used to help others. That’s a really cool thing to do! But it’s an amazing opportunity. We have quite a few people involved in the project now, who all have the same desire to see the place come back to life and be an asset to the city again. It’s a great team of really passionate people.

It seems the Broadway is regarded as much more than a venue, locally – it has a special place in many people’s hearts…
Yes, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the place, too. Although it’s had its troubles, when it was being run as a theatre under Rinaldo’s ownership – with just one show every week or two – it never ran at a loss. It just didn’t have people running it who were dedicated to making it work as a theatre. Rinaldo himself wasn’t really interested in doing that, and when he’d allowed a company to take it on and run the place he’d been very badly let down, so he was wary too. But it always paid its way – and the Bill Kenwright shows demonstrated that there were audiences out there and that it could make money. He did a twelve-week and then a nine-week run, and took £2.6 million. That was just a few different shows, and in just one genre. With the whole building being used for a whole range of events, it could do so much more.

And that’s your plan, to have something every night, and to use every part of the building?
Yes, we want something every day of the week. The plan is for our events to be very varied, so one night we might have comedy, another an ice-skating show, or a rock band, a play, jazz cabaret, or a lecture. It’ll be very varied through the week. But building up to that level will take some time, and it’ll probably be 12 months before we’re able to achieve that. We’ll start with a couple of events a week and work towards that. To find out exactly what people wanted we have set up an online survey, which has been incredibly informative. Within that you can also leave comments, and we have had stacks of goodwill messages. I was expecting a little bit of a backlash, but I have read every single one that has come in and there hasn’t been a single negative one. The fact is, we are now a city of 200,000 people, and that will be a city of 250,000 people very soon. If you look at the catchment area, it’s a colossal number of people. I have no doubt we can get the public to attend, and once we have had some success with that – as Bill Kenwright already has – promoters will see that and take notice. We’ll be working with other theatres as well.

It’s said this is the biggest venue of its kind within a 40-mile radius. What is the capacity?
1,170 seated, but if you take out the downstairs seating – which has never been done before, but which we will do for some shows – then it’s about 1,800. As far as I am aware, that’s bigger than any theatre in East Anglia. That gives us the numbers to bring in some really great names – and it means there will be some new things coming to the city that have never been here before.

What other spaces are there within the building, and how will you be putting those to use?
The Broadway is effectively three venues. The biggest is the main auditorium. Then there’s the Broadway Suite, adjacent to the man theatre, which has the bar and a stage in it. It is 5,000 square feet in size, and will seat 250 people for jazz cabaret, for example, and also has a roof garden. The third venue is really the first floor foyer, where there is another bar and eatery, and that will be used during the day. We’re calling this Walter’s Bar, in recognition of Walter Cornelius. He used to be a concierge at The Broadway when it was still the Odeon cinema, many years ago, but was also a legendary character locally – working as a life guard at the Lido, trying to fly across the river and doing his amazing strong man act. When I went to see films at the Odeon as a kid, Walter was one of the people who was making sure we behaved ourselves! We just thought it was a nice way to recognise him.

So, how and when does it all begin?
On 1 September we open the doors. Our official opening event is actually 2 September, and for that we hope to have some entertainment and an open day during the day, leading into the Film Gala Concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra in the evening. But it will be very much a community building, and a community effort, with people who have a passion to make it work. That’s how I think all our infrastructure in the city should be run. You grow things from the inside out. If you are part of a community and you empower people around you, and allow them to take possession of a thing, you end up with something that is far more substantial and has far more depth and meaning than just some corporate venture.

To take part in The Broadway Theatre survey, visit


Local TV station and training charity to be based at relaunched Peterborough theatre A new working arrangement will cement The Broadway Theatre as not only a top entertainment provider but also an active communications hub. Charity training organisation Hereward Media will be working from the rear of the complex, and its ancillary outputs will lead to local TV station Hereward Television finally going ‘on-air’ this autumn.

Alex Geairns, Station Director for Hereward Media, noted of the deal: ‘This new partnership brings to a conclusion the first stage of the project, in literally laying the foundations. We have been in conversation with many potential sponsors and investors who have been waiting for someone else to make the first move. With the new management of The Broadway having made this commitment, we believe many of those we have spoken to will now be helping us zoom into full production, in terms of training and broadcasting.’

Further details about the Hereward Media project can be found at their website, located at

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.

Register an Account