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Phil Willmott

New Figures Reveal West End Theatre is Thriving

London's West End West End producers are far more secretive about box office figures then their Broadway counterparts. In New York every Broadway production publishes details of how a show is doing on a weekly basis. If you’re a theatre geek it can make fascinating reading. You can access everything at https://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses.cfm

In London however West End bosses are a little more secretive. Indeed it often feels like there’s a shame in mounting a show which isn’t selling as well as hoped. PRs will often publish a release if a production is breaking records, extending its run, getting in a new cast etc. but usually the first we hear about a production being in trouble is if we notice a new show is booked to take over in a venue or when there’s a mealy-mouthed announcement about an early closure.

So it’s rather refreshing each year when The Society of London Theatre (SOLT) releases its annual report on ticket sales data for its member venues, which include all of the commercial West End and London’s major subsidized theatres.

I'm glad to report that SOLT Chairman, Kenny Wax, the brilliant producer who saw the potential in fringe productions of the PLAY THAT GOES WRONG and SIX and developed them into international hits, is very upbeat. In his commentary to the report he tells us –

‘These figures demonstrate the buoyancy of London’s theatre industry and the city’s status as the world’s leading theatre destination. Our major theatre owners and producers continue to present world class work, while investing in their historic venues to give audiences the best possible experience. Audiences remain hungry for a quality live experience, evidenced by the unprecedented percentage of seats filled in 2019. The theatre industry is committed to offering a wide range of affordable tickets, alongside discount schemes, school outreach projects and SOLT audience development initiatives like Kids Week and New Year Sale. It is fantastic to see that over 5 million* tickets were available in the commercial West End at £40 and under last year, with only 1.1% at £150 and above.’

Overall plays saw a nearly 3% rise in audience numbers, while musicals dipped by just under 2% and overall attendance figures (15,315,773 saw a show in 2019) is down 1.4% from 2018. However we’re told “this reflects the fact that four of London’s largest musical houses – the Dominion Theatre, the London Palladium, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the newly renamed Sondheim Theatre – were dark for a significant proportion of the year, in some cases to carry out significant renovation projects. A total of 371 dark weeks in 2019, compared to 207 the previous year.

And indeed figures show 18,364 performances were given in the West End last year (down 1.8% from 2018).

The other major points of the 2019 report include reports of an annual London theatre audience of over 15.3 million – nearly 1 million higher than Broadway – filling a record 80.7% of available seats and generating £799m in box office revenue. And that the average ticket price paid was £52.17 (up 5.8% from 2018) Generating £133,165,820 in VAT for the Treasury.

80.7% of available seats were filled (up from 77.5% in 2018)”.