London theatre takings edge up despite 2012 Olympics

Tue Jan 29, 2013 7:47am EST

* West End robust in 2012 despite Olympics, economy

* Revenues at record, attendance 14 million

* Worries over cuts to regional theatre funding

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - London's theatres earned 530 million pounds ($830 million) in 2012, a marginal rise on 2011, and although the Olympic Games had a noticeable impact on the West End during the summer it was not the "bloodbath" one leading producer had predicted.

Figures released on Tuesday by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) showed 2012 gross ticket sales at 52 major theatres in the capital rose 0.27 percent on the year before while attendances, at 14 million, were up 0.56 percent.

The increases would have been greater had it not been for the London Games, SOLT officials said, with public attention surrounding the opening ceremony dampening demand and warnings of transport disruptions putting off theatre-goers.

London's flamboyant Mayor Boris Johnson was singled out as a factor, after his recorded messages warning of travel congestion on public transport during the Games were quickly dropped when the concerns proved unfounded.

"I don't think most of the (SOLT) members were relishing the Games and the impact of the Olympics was viewed with trepidation," said SOLT president Mark Rubinstein.

"It's surprising, amazing, wonderful we are standing here today saying 2012 was another record-breaking year."

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the most influential theatre impresarios in Britain, had predicted a box office "bloodbath" during the summer due to the Games.

Rubinstein said there was a sizeable drop in takings during the third quarter of the year due to the Olympics, but that overall the figures were better than many had predicted.

In outright terms, the revenue figure was a new record, while attendance was not far from its 2009 peak of 14.3 million.

REGIONAL CUTS A WORRY

Producers showed restraint, perhaps with an eye on economic gloom in Britain and much of Europe, with average ticket prices last year at 37.86 pounds compared with 37.97 pounds in 2011.

Musicals dominated the West End again, accounting for eight million attendances, a fall of three percent on 2011, while play attendances were up nine percent at 4.1 million.

Hits last year included the Royal Court's transfers of "Posh", "Jumpy" and "Constellations" and the success of the National Theatre's "War Horse" and "One Man, Two Guvnors".

While London showed resilience in the face of competition from the Olympics and a stagnant economy, there was greater concern for regional theatres, some of which face major spending cuts from central government and local authorities.

Newcastle City Council in northern England, for example, announced it planned to cut all funding to arts organisations in the city, and other regions including Derby and Darlington have been badly hit.

Rubinstein said cuts to arts spending in the regions could have a devastating impact on theatres which were "part of the ecosystem" of British stage and helped make the West End great.

"We need to support those theatres and make sure the politicians support those theatres," he said.

Advance ticket sales for 2013 suggested another strong year ahead, he added.

Julian Bird, SOLT's chief executive, also announced that commercial channel ITV would broadcast the Olivier Awards for West End theatre on April 28. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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