02/08/2013 14:40 BST | Updated 02/10/2013 06:12 BST

The Future of Immersive Theatre


This year has been very busy for me. I have for some time been considering how live entertainment will progress in the future. Concerts, certainly in the UK, are at an all-time high. This summer in London alone there have been more stadium capacity shows than I can ever remember. However, I believe we have finally reached saturation levels with so many large shows. In future, those acts that get close to selling out their first stadium concert should stop and not try for a second one unless they are absolutely convinced it will sell out.

I have always believed that for live concerts you must create demand. Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Muse, Jay- Z and Justin Timberlake all learnt a lesson this summer in London. If you also add a large number of arena concerts into the mix during this period then it is no wonder that concerts did not sell out.

I have for many years spoken about promoting and the art of 'saying "no"'. This year that message certainly rang true.

Entertainment has to progress and I have been searching for the next trend for some time.

In my working life, I have always been at the forefront of delivering to a discerning public something different. From bringing Cirque du Soleil to the UK and presenting at the Royal Albert Hall instead of their touring tent, taking operas from the Opera House and reproducing them in large arenas, finding theatrical shows like The Merchants of Bollywood, and recently reproducing The Crazy Horse Club from Paris in a temporary venue on the South Bank, these are all part of my quest to present the best of the world's entertainment. In addition, in sport I presented a Formula One exhibition race along Regent Street in the centre of London to nearly 500,000 people. This year I produced my first golf tournament, Zone Golf, on a par three course in London, a new way of teaching and playing golf with four of the world's top golfers.

So it is no surprise that when I met with Robin de Levita and Kees Abrahams, the co-founders of global content creation company Imagine Nation, in London earlier this year, I was fascinated by the new way of enjoying theatre they had developed.

Imagine Nation have created a production called Soldier of Orange in an old aircraft hangar, about 40 minutes outside Amsterdam. The story was a famous Dutch book and subject of a successful film - and de Levita and Abrahams at Imagine Nation felt that in order to do the story justice, they had to find a new way of presenting this.

The result was a custom designed and built theatre inside a warehouse, where the audience sat in a traditional raked layout of seats, but where those seats were built on a turntable. This allows for the scenes of the show to be much more elaborate as the audience turned around the stage.

Intrigued, I took my wife to Holland to see the show. I held back telling her the show was in Dutch until we departed from London! Following a briefing over a splendid dinner at the venue we were completely blown away by the show, as were the sold out audience.

This is the future of theatre. Where else could you see real boats taking escapees from the second world war to London across the English Channel? Where else would you see the Dutch Queen arriving back in Holland after the war in an actual plane that lands and taxis up to the stage for her to dis-embark?

Imagine Nation has been created to build such theatres around the world with amazing productions to wow audiences. When asked, I immediately accepted to join the board and help deliver their vision.

Imagine Nation is already working on its second production in Amsterdam, and the company has plans to grow rapidly. I am thrilled to be part of that expansion. Imagine Nation has a number of other projects underway - and we expect to roll out productions elsewhere in the world.

Joining the board of Imagine Nation has totally re-invigorated me about presenting live entertainment again; as I had become bored touring concerts in the same way for so many years. Concerts have to change. Ticket prices are too high. Ticket distribution has become a major rip off and artists are becoming too greedy.

Imagine Nation is the way forward, giving an audience the opportunity to engage with productions in a new and engaging way; you only have to look at the success of Punchdrunk and their immersive productions to see that.

People who have never been to the theatre are flocking to see Soldier of Orange - proving that it's engaging even the most infrequent of theatre-goers. To listen to the buzz after the show is very gratifying.

Imagine Nation is the future and I am thrilled to be part of it.