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 41.

    Nice to see some people can afford a night out in the west end; must be MPs or benefit cheats?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Oh! Thanks BBC!

    Thanks for the London-centric, arty-farty private business newscast.

    In what way I'm I supposed to care about this?

    Please tell me! I'm clearly not arty enough to care.


  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I'm sure this will be seen as good news for Theatreland, but it's been many years since I noticed a play in the West End I really wanted to see. I've no interest in seeing stage versions or musicals made out of decades old movies, and frankly I can't understand who could. Sadly, there seems very little at present on in the West End that has any value whatsoever.

  • Comment number 38.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Yes, that would be London. Because the article is about London. And you were commenting on London-based statistics being evidence of "haves" and "have-nots". Which made it seem appropriate to point out that many of the productions actually mentioned in the article could be seen for less than the price of a cinema ticket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    That would be in London, yes? Meanwhile, out in the provinces my wife and I have few options and higher costs even with a student discount. When I can afford it, SNO is welcome, as is the ballet, but measure the costs against, say, Odessa Opera House...well, I'm not relegated to the gods there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Local theatre is still doing well, just not so much the professional stuff, but rather people doing it for themselves.

    Am Dram, understandably, has a dodgy reputation but what the hell, it's a lot cheaper and a lot nearer to your home to go & see, espcially if go for the productions that are other than tedious reworkings of pantomine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    dtbiffen (33) "Eight from thrity two posts are removed because they broke the house rules."

    Yes, one of mine, and even a post from someone who ONLY REPLIED TO ME were removed. Someone must be very, very sensitive about something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Eight from thrity two posts are removed because they broke the house rules. Is this a record?

    Well done the West End theatres.

  • Comment number 32.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Living By Logic wrote:
    "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."

    High culture? Have you seen how many musicals are playing?

    The West End is doing well because it's followed TV in dumbing down to please the x-factor generation.

  • Comment number 30.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Seems Webber's whining earlier in the month has paid dividends, what with all the apocolyptic griping about the Olympics nicking their money

    Amazing what a bit of free advertising can achieve

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Isn't it more that big shows and big stars never seem to work outside London any more? A quick pre-opening tour to use local theatregoers as guinea pigs then straightinto the West End where the production stays. We just don't have the quality or quantity in provincial theatres nor the travelling repertory companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    gettingstarted - A great idea, but might not go down to well, I think a musical about Terry Waite would be great with Brian Blessed playing Terry Waite.

  • Comment number 26.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    To think, Andrew Lloyd Webber suggested that the Olympics would make a dent on West End sales this year. If basic intuition is correct, i.e. that many of those staying in London for the games will visit the West End and hence sales will actually INCREASE during that period, these shows could probably afford to lower prices by 15% and still rake in even more than last year. Common sense prevails?

  • Comment number 24.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Oh please. Tickets to the National Theatre can be had for £12. Last time I went to the Royal Court my ticket was £10. Half price tickets can be bought at TKTS every day for dozens of productions. Young Vic gives thousands of tickets away to young people and community groups. The Globe is £5 - less than a packet of cigarettes! All people choose their diversions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    fascinating. Truly, utterly, fascinating.

    We have a couple of plays going on in our local theatre. There's an instructive talk being given to the ladies of the WI in the village hall. A very angry demo about a proposed housing development..

    Oh, of course it's boring - it's not about London!!


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