A Record-Breaking Year for London’s West End
It’s been a record-breaking year for London’s West End, with the highest box office revenue in recorded history, and attendances over the 15 million for the first time. Recently, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) published their annual data, and the statistics give a revealing glimpse into the current climate in the West End. The data was drawn from the 53 commercial and non-profit theatres that have membership in the organisation.
Attendance in 2017 was up 5.35 percent from 2016 to 15.1 million in total, representing the highest percentage growth since records began in 1986 — at the time attendance was 10.2 million. Over 77 percent of available seats were filled over the course of the year, another statistic that has improved over time.
SOLT says the increase comes from a mix of good shows and high levels of tourism, particularly in the first half of the year. Shows like The Lion King and The Book of Mormon brought in huge crowds. The West End attracts additional tourism with entertainment, restaurants and the famous Hippodrome Casino, which, this year, is host to the PokerStars London Festival, featuring a £500k Main Event tournament.
West End theatre box offices altogether turned over a gross revenue of £705 million in 2017, up 9.3 percent from the previous year. It’s the first time that revenue has exceeded the £700-million mark.
Regarding individual art forms, revenue increased significantly for both plays and musicals. Plays brought in £176.4 million, up 16 percent from last year, while the total revenue for musicals was £436.6 million, up 9 percent.
This increase is partly due to the increased attendance but also resulting from a slight increase in ticket prices. Tickets for West End shows in 2017 cost an average of £46.71, up from £45 in 2016, representing an increase of around 3.8 percent — above the rate of inflation for the consumer price index, but not too far off being in line with the retail price index.
There was also an increased number of performances over the course of the year, another reason for the growth in revenue — a total of 18,203 shows, up from 17,881 in 2016. However, the number of new shows fell by 18 to a total of 258, the lowest since 2011. The numbers point toward longer runs of existing and well-received shows.
Not all genres and art forms enjoyed such gains and growth in 2017. Opera and dance both performed less well than they did in 2016, with a combined decrease in attendance of 7 percent. Despite fewer people enjoying the arts, revenue for opera and dance still increased by around 1 percent, showing an increase in ticket price.
The West End also experienced a rocky final quarter of the year, with falls in both attendance and revenue when compared to 2016. Attendance fell by 1.7 percent in comparison and revenue by 1.3 percent. Though generally, the report for the year is promising for West End theatre producers and patrons, companies will have to hold on throughout 2018 to keep up the growth. It’s good to see more people coming to the shows and more performances on offer, though hopefully, existing popular options won’t stop new productions from hitting the theatre.