West End theatre sees slight uplift despite Olympics

Tom Chambers (centre) with the male ensemble of Top Hat Tom Chambers (centre) with the male ensemble of the Top Hat musical

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West End shows such as Top Hat, Sweeney Todd and The Bodyguard helped boost London's theatre box office in 2012.

Ticket sales rose slightly last year despite competition from the Olympics, according to figures released by the Society of London Theatre (Solt).

Overall sales increased by 0.27% to £529.7m, with audiences up 0.56% to 13.99 million on 2011's totals.

Solt president Mark Rubinstein said he was "delighted" there had been growth in sales for the ninth year running.

Revealing the figures at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday, he admitted there had been a sense of "trepidation" about the impact of the Olympics.

LONDON THEATRE BOX OFFICE

  • Attendances: 13,992,773 (2012) 13,915,185 (2011)
  • Gross box office revenue: £529,787,692 (2012) £528,375,874 (2011)
  • Average number of theatres open: 45 (2012) 45 (2011)
  • Number of performances: 18,448 (2012) 18,061 (2011)
  • New productions: 305 (2012) 256 (2011)
  • Average ticket price: £37.86 (2012) £37.97 (2011)

Source: Solt

"The Olympics did take a bite out of the business. There were messages about travel and transport that the society worked very hard to correct and made sure people felt comfortable about coming into the West End.

"At a time when we are hearing about a hard economic climate and retail names falling, for the society to be able to announce this is an astounding achievement."

While sales and attendances dropped during the Olympic weeks, Solt attributed the overall growth during 2012 to "a very strong first half of the year and good autumn sales".

These were due in part to the start of the Michael Grandage season at the Noel Coward theatre and the continued popularity of such West End transfers as One Man, Two Guvnors and Matilda the Musical.

Plays had a strong year, with audiences up 9% on 2011, though musicals saw attendances drop by 3% over the corresponding period.

Particularly strong draws included the Shakespeare's Globe productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night at the Apollo Theatre, both starring Mark Rylance, which according to Solt saw "queues around the block".

The organisation also reported that advance sales "grew considerably" in the last three months of 2012, "showing huge audience confidence in the current productions and anticipation for the new shows that are to open in 2013".

The latter include the upcoming West End production of Broadway hits The Book of Mormon and Once and a musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - based, like Matilda The Musical, on a Roald Dahl work.

The Solt figures relate to the 52 major theatres, both commercial and grant-aided, in central London.

Live TV coverage

Adam Kenwright, founder of international entertainment agency AKA said last year had been "an amazing, surprising year for the West End", adding that he predicted "a predicted rise in overall visitor numbers".

Meanwhile, Solt has announced that this year's Olivier Awards will be televised on a mainstream TV channel for the first time in a decade.

ITV will screen on-the-night highlights of the theatre awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House on 28 April.

Sheridan Smith Double Olivier winner Sheridan Smith will co-host this year's ceremony

Up to 2003, the awards had been shown on BBC Two. Last year television coverage was available via the BBC's red button.

The 2013 ceremony will be co-hosted by actress Sheridan Smith, a back-to-back Olivier-winner for her work in the musical Legally Blonde and Terence Rattigan's Flare Path.

BBC Radio 2 will broadcast live radio coverage of the ceremony, as it has done in previous years.

The station will also broadcast the 2013 Olivier Award nominations live at 11:30 GMT on 26 March.

Voting has now begun for the the Radio 2 audience award for the most popular show - the only Olivier decided by members of the public.

At last year's awards, Matilda the Musical set a new record by winning a total of seven trophies.

  • In a separate announcement on Tuesday, the producers of West End show Let It Be - which features the music of The Beatles - said the production had recouped its £1.6m costs at the box office. After an 18-week run at the Prince of Wales Theatre, the show transfers to the Savoy Theatre in February.
  • Also announced is the transfer of Private Lives to the West End after a sell-out run at Chichester. Noel Coward's comedy stars Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor as divorcees who rekindle old passions while honeymooning with their new spouses. It runs at the Gielgud Theatre from 22 June until 21 September.

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