How much do you know about theatre ownership in the West End? You may not know, but most of London’s major theatres are not family run and operated. In fact, the most prominent and famous of those in the West End are a part of one group or another. In London, there are four big players for theatre ownership – Delfont Mackintosh Ltd, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group, The Ambassador Theatre Group, and finally a group co-founded by Max Weitzenhoffer and Nica Burns called Nimax Theatres – but, just who is Nica Burns?
Nica's interest in theatre burgeoned at university where she was studying law. Although acting wasn’t part of her course, she became passionate about it and even showed an interest in helming her own productions. Being a successful actor was a competitive business at university, so Nica as well as performing herself she also volunteered to produce some shows and discovered she thrived on being in charge.
After school, Nica adapted H.E. Bates’ The Dulcimer, taking it to the Edinburgh Festival in 1982. Not satisfied with merely re-writing the novel for the stage, she also produced and starred in it. Mounting the production cost her her life savings (£600) but the risk of investing everything she had in this one production was rewarded as the play became one of the Festival’s success stories. She was catapulted to the forefront of theatre production and continued to build upon her increasingly impressive career.
Nica became the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse theatre, then used by the RSC as a rehearsal space for shows with famous actors including Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, and invited touring theatre groups such as Cheek by Jowl to perform there. She also took the initiative to add late-night comedy to the line-up, and by the time she left the company it had developed a reputation as a reliable theatre hotspot.
Since then, she has worked closely with Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group, where she helped to select productions whilst also maintaining her directorship at the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards (previously known as the Perrier Awards.)
Productions she has been involved with over the years include numerous Fascinating Aida shows, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Kathleen Turner at the Apollo Theatre, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with Christian Slater at both the Gielgud and the Garrick theatres, Piaf at the Vaudeville and current Apollo show Long Day's Journey Into Night starring David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf.
Nica asserts that she wouldn’t have been half as successful if it wasn’t for her partner Marc who, in 2005, agreed to re-mortgage their house in order to help her raise enough money to start her own theatrical empire with Max Weitzenhoffer. Nimax Theatres (a portmanteau of Nica and Max’s first names) formed when Lord Webber decided to sell four of his theatres – the Apollo Theatre, Garrick Theatre, Duchess Theatre and the Lyric Theatre, adding them to Weitzenhoffer’s already-owned Vaudeville Theatre. The most recent addition to Nimax's portfolio is the Palace Theatre, joining earlier in 2012 from Lord Webber.
The Nimax theatres always seem to have incredibly popular performances. Take Chicago – this amazing revival has been running for a record-breaking 15 years and often brings in celebrity performers such as Kelly Osbourne, Denise Van Outen, John Barrowman and America Ferreira.
So, what next for Nica and Nimax? Well, Nica recently announced the construction of the first new West End theatre in 30 years, saying “our new theatre won't compete with those already in London. It will be a different - very intimate - space, in a great location, where cutting edge shows can be performed.” The new theatre space will be constructed after the Crossrail project is complete, and will be situated on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, above the underground station.
Who is Nica Burns? In Theatreland she has always been, and continues to be, one to watch.