London theatre defies recession with record 2008 box office results

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London theatre has posted record attendances and box office for 2008, defying earlier reports that the worsening global economic climate had been forcing West End shows to close.

Box office revenue totalled £480.5 million, up 3% on 2007's already record figure, while attendances for the year totalled 13.8 million - up 1%.

Musicals ended 2008 1% up year-on-year, while plays suffered a slight loss, ending the year 1% down. This figure could have been worse, but for a very strong final quarter, which saw attendances across the board improve significantly.

In fact, had it not been for a Christmas period which was “significantly” stronger than last year, the end of year figures could have shown a slight – perhaps 1% - drop overall.

Nica Burns, chief executive of Nimax and the president of the Society of London Theatre, which compiles the results, said: "It was a quite remarkable year. Behind these figures are many very talented hard-working people putting on and selling world-class shows that people actually want to see. There's a lot of economic doom and gloom out there, but it would seem people still want to be entertained and stimulated in numbers."

The results cover 52 London theatres - both commercial and subsidised - but do not include SOLT affiliate theatres. The venues covered by this year's figures are the same as those included in last year's results.

SOLT chief executive Richard Pulford added: "These figures are good news for the performing arts, and for the UK economy. Theatregoers are out there spending money not just at our box offices but in hotels, restaurants and shops in the capital. 2009 will undoubtedly be tough, but we start the year with the theatre capital of the world in good health."

The results follow warnings from many industry figures - most recently director Trevor Nunn - that the recession could have a negative impact on the state of the theatre industry.

For more on this story, see this week's print edition of The Stage.