THE operator of Southampton's acclaimed Nuffield theatres has gone into administration after being severely hit by the coronavirus lockdown.

Administrators are looking to find a saviour for Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ two venues – at the University of Southampton campus and in the city centre.

Most of the organisation’s 80 staff have been on furlough since the Covid-19 lockdown caused all shows to be cancelled or postponed.

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

They will be running its financial affairs and looking for potential buyers.

Mr Palfrey 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 per cent 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.”

Mr 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.”

The Nuffield Theatres started life in 1964, when the University of Southampton, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, built a venue on its campus for the people of Southampton.

The theatre, built by Sir Basil Spence, was officially opened by theatrical legend Dame Sybil Thorndike in March 1964.

It became an independent theatre, mounting its own productions, in 1982, funded by Arts Council England, the University of Southampton and Hampshire County Council.

Known today as Nuffield Southampton Theatres, it opened a second venue last year, NST City, in Southampton’s Cultural Quarter, where it mounted the world premiere of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory.