The biggest pantomime company in the world has been sold to a private equity-backed investor that is betting theatres’ empty days are behind them as countries emerge from lockdowns.
Crossroads Live, backed by US fund Raven Capital Management, is to acquire Qdos Pantomimes, which has put on more than 750 shows over almost 40 years. Its productions, which take place at larger venues including the London Palladium, the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Manchester Opera House, are seen by 2m people a year and it has been one of the chief beneficiaries of a booming part of the theatre world over the past decade.
Pantomimes are a traditional form of theatre that date to the Middle Ages. The Christmas season shows, which feature double entendres, bawdy humour and call-and-response catchphrases such as “he’s behind you” and “oh no it isn’t — oh yes it is!”, have proved to be one of the most lucrative forms of theatre in the UK.
David Ian, chief executive of Crossroads Live, said pantos were an integral part of both the regional and West End theatre schedules. “It’s the banker for the year. They are extremely well attended,” he said.
Qdos Pantomimes has been at the larger end of the pantomime market, with celebrities often proving the big draw. The UK-based company employs 47 full-time staff and hires more than 1,000 actors, musicians and stage managers every year.
Nick Thomas, who founded the company in 1982 and expanded the business from regional theatres to a West End pantomime stalwart, will stand down as part of the sale, made for an undisclosed sum.
Ian said that pantomime was a “natural fit” for Crossroads Live as the live entertainment sector recovers. The company’s existing business is staging productions of the musicals Chicago, School of Rock and My Best Friend’s Wedding from September.
“Live theatre is going to be one of the industries that will bounce back after the pandemic,” he said.
A prolonged shutdown because of Covid-19 has provided an opportunity for well-resourced companies to acquire smaller producers, according to Ian. Crossroads has completed deals in Australia and Asia over the past year and is eyeing more. “It’s been extremely tough. There’s been no theatre whatsoever. This business is surrounded by risk at the best of times and it has never been harder than over the past 12 to 18 months and it will continue to be,” he said.