West End ticket sales hit £528m in 2011

Danielle Hope in The Wizard of Oz The Wizard of Oz was one of 2011's new productions

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The West End enjoyed record box office sales in 2011 for an eighth consecutive year, according to figures released by the Society of London Theatre (Solt).

Takings topped £528.3m in 2011 - up 3.1% on a like-for-like basis on the previous year.

Due to the closure of a number of theatres while new shows were set up, the overall attendance was 13.9m - down 1.73% on 2010.

According to Solt, though, the average audience at each performance was up.

The Society said the growth in sales could be attributed to sell-out productions such as Matilda the Musical and the continued success of Les Miserables, now in its 26th year.

Play revenue also received a 10% boost thanks to such sold-out productions as Frankenstein, Richard III, Jerusalem and One Man, Two Guvnors.

Last year saw several of London's bigger theatres welcome such major new productions as The Wizard of Oz, Shrek the Musical and Rock of Ages.

Solt said this led to an unusually high number of "dark" weeks - when theatres are closed to the public - while set installations took place, causing a fall in overall attendance.

Last year saw 146 dark weeks, when there were only 85 in 2010.

"We are extremely proud that our theatres have yet again gone on to achieve another record-breaking year of sales," said Solt president Mark Rubinstein.

"Despite the prevailing rigours of the economic climate, theatre-goers have acted with their feet and wallets."

The figures relate to the theatres represented in membership of the Society of London Theatre, which include all the commercial West End houses.

However, the Guardian's theatre critic, Michael Billington, sounded a warning about the figures, saying: "Dark weeks can be a convenient alibi for a slight drop in attendances.

"I hope we're not heading for a situation like Broadway, where revenues increase because of ever higher ticket prices while attendances slowly decline."

He added that the healthy state of London theatre might not be replicated elsewhere. "I was at the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme last night where they told me they'd had a 10% rise in attendance," he told the BBC.

"Other theatres have seen a marked drop in box-office. It's in the regions, I suspect, that the recession is starting to bite."

Price comparison

Using the Solt figures, theatre website Whatsonstage.com illustrated how the rise in ticket prices between 1986 and 2011 compared to audience figures.

While attendances rose 26%, over the same time period box office takings rose by 347% - meaning the average ticket price in 2011 was £37.97 versus £10.95 in 1986.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com, Rubinstein attributed rising costs to a variety of factors including: increased VAT receipts; costlier, more high-tech productions; and rising venue and ticketing technology expenses, as well as inflation.

"The profits in the average producer's pocket have not been getting fatter," he said.

Whatsonstage editor Terri Paddock told the BBC: "It is an expensive business, but the industry is aware that prices can't just rise inexorably. There is point at which the market will bear no more and we are all going to have to be looking at those issues over the next few years."

She added that the high number of "dark" weeks in 2011 did not reflect periods of inactivity.

At the Palace Theatre, where Whatsonstage.com is based, there is currently a changeover period between the Priscilla musical and Singin' In the Rain - which opens on 4 February.

"Those big shows take a long time to set up," she said. "There have been crew members and technicians getting the old show out and putting the new show in. It's a very large undertaking."

Adam Kenwright, is the managing director of aka - the marketing agency behind plays and shows such as War Horse, Shrek, Matilda the Musical and Jerusalem.

"The West End is a real success story for the UK," he said.

"These figures are a testament to the strength, quality and talent of London theatre and show that even in difficult financial times, millions of people are prepared to spend their hard-earned money on world-class entertainment."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    So a bit of good news (such as it is) and still the whingers surface......oh dear!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I am not sure if there is any truth in the rumour that Andrew Lloyd Webber's is currently in the early stages of working on his next musical which will be titled "Captain Schettino's Mandolin"

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What an insight into the national psyche that this good news story about high culture injecting £500m into the economy brings complaints about CO2, celebrities, and the neglect of regional theatre.

    I, for one, think the success of the West End is fantastic and the composers, producers and performers should be proud. It's one of the few things continuing to put Britain on the global map.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This is great news and especially nice to know we can drive in and park with the defeat of Colin Barrow and Westminster Council
    Thanks to the Evening Standard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    #15 But what other UK city generates £500million in theatre takings? I think this is a story because of the amount generated - if Cardiff managed £500million through theatre bookings then I'm sure that would be newsworthy too

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    If overall attendance was down, but takings were up, surely this just means that the theatres have put their prices up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    So, what is this HYS all about. Great news for London, but what about theatres in the rest of the UK being starved of funding. It really does annoy me that the BBC are only interested in London. What about life outside London, or don't your reporter's Sat-navs work further afield. How is theatre life in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast or Plymouth? Non't know and don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Don’t want to put the damper on things but all those people driving to watch plays & concerts releases a lot of CO2, we have only 5 years to get CO2 down to 1 ton per person per year, at present food production alone accounts for 2 ton per person per year. In future all entertainment must be within walking distance, why not a school play?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Bet the sales will slump between late July & mid August 2012.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Apologies for politicising this, but it merely shows that the "haves" are completely unaffected by the economic downturn (double-dip recession-to-be) and are enjoying their diversions more than ever. I enjoy theatre and opera, when I can afford it (not often in this country) but have seen little lately that's not derivitive & second-rate, so I believe even this is dumbed down for today's audience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's just a shame that so much of the West End's revival has needed the hype of "celebrity" stars to bring it about.

    But if people who see some minor celeb in one show enjoy their day out & start going to more/better shows then everyone's a winner in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Good news. Good to see London theatres still producing new, wonderful productions and good to see the London fringe still creating productions that go on to West End and Broadway success.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Andrew Lloyd Webber was bleating on about how terrible it was all going to be in the West End because of the Olympics ? ( A "bloodbath" he called it ).

    Well, this should at least make him a little happier then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It does matter, Because Government cuts mean the Subsidised sector is under threat and to conflate the subsidised parts which are the real innovators of theatre in this country with the tourist fleecers between the Strand and Piccadilly Circus allows the cutters to reduce subsidies by pretending it will not matter to the buoyant west end.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Don't overreact. It isn't spin or being disingenuous. To most people, myself included, West End is a metonym for the entire London Theatre industry, like referring to government initiatives coming from Whitehall even if the offices of some may not be on Whitehall.

    Good to see some positive numbers in this economy though.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The spin, such as it is, is all the BBC's in it's choice of headline. The article makes it quite clear that the figures are those of the Society of London Theatre with it's wider geographical membership then for example the Society of West End Theatres.


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