Fiona Allan

The Hippodrome’s artistic director and chief executive Fiona Allan on making the theatre a globally known cultural centre and why, as an Aussie, she still finds panto baffling


I’ve held cultural leadership roles in Sydney, Melbourne, Cardiff, Leicester and now Birmingham – doing everything from orchestral tour management to running a film festival, projecting graphics onto the Sydney Opera House sails and producing plays and musicals. I moved to the UK 12 years ago, and thought I’d only be staying a year. I’m president of UK Theatre, our leading industry membership organisation, and chair of The Space digital arts agency partnership between the Arts Council and BBC. Locally, I sit on the Southside BID board and on Culture Central – the collective voice for culture in Birmingham.


I joined the Hippodrome last October as artistic director and chief executive, overseeing the running of the business and creating an artistic strategy that includes the work on stage, our festivals, outreach work and education programme. We make good profit on commercial musicals and pantomime and reinvest this in bringing international work to Birmingham, holding community festivals and developing local artists and young people. We like to say we have a commercial head, with a charitable heart.


The Hippodrome is already the UK’s busiest theatre – I’d like to build on this and make it a globally known cultural centre that is busy day and night and is a catalyst for the development of creative skills and talent. If we can develop the Hippodrome’s audience to better reflect the young, vibrant, diverse population of Birmingham, I’ll have done my job well. Birmingham is punching way above its weight with our incredible cultural offer but we’re really not good at telling people about it.


I’m proudest of the week we presented two pioneering international companies. Firstly, Cape Town Opera with their home-grown inspiring piece Mandela Trilogy. Then, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from New York, who are one of the best companies in the world.


Pantomime is fun! Coming from Australia, where we have no pantomime tradition at all, I was fearful of taking responsibility for the world’s biggest pantomime. I still have moments when I’m completely baffled but love watching how much fun the audience is having.


It’s been a very welcoming city. The people are very friendly. And there is a fantastic independent restaurant and café scene, especially around where I live in the Jewellery Quarter.


I recharge by riding horses at least twice a week and have an annual holiday somewhere off the beaten track. Over New Year I was riding horses for a week in the Western Sahara, without seeing a road or having any phone signal. Bliss.


My top tip for the Hippodrome’s autumn season is a show called Vamos Cuba, running from 1 to 5 November. I saw it in development in Havana in April and was blown away by the high energy music and dance!