London theatres break box office records with 14.6m golden tickets

Tom Klenerman in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - one of the West End shows that was key to 2013's record figures. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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London’s major commercial and subsidised theatres have reported their 10th consecutive year of record box office takings, with more people visiting theatre in the capital in 2013 than ever before.

Figures published by the Society of London Theatre – whose membership includes the 52 principal commercial and not-for-profit theatres in central London – revealed that:

  • Gross box office returns rose to more than £585 million, up 11% on 2012
  • Attendances also increased, by 4%, up to 14.6 million.

This means London box office receipts have more than doubled since the turn of the century. In 2000, total box office across SOLT members was £286.6 million.

According to SOLT, the results were down to the popularity of the shows on offer, with theatres reporting an improved percentage of tickets sold across the year. Average theatre capacity achieved was 72.7% in 2013, up from 69.21%.

While the last few years of box office increases have been largely driven by the performance of plays, 2013 proved a good year across the board, with musical and play attendances both up by 3%. Meanwhile, attendances at other entertainment events (covering opera, dance and other forms of performance) was up 12%.

SOLT president Mark Rubinstein said he was “delighted” with the results: “These figures pay testament to the quality, vibrancy and enduring popularity of the London stage, which, despite a difficult economic climate, continues to pull in the crowds thanks to the world-class entertainment on offer and inclusive pricing structures. With the combined box office advance sales also reaching new heights in December, we are looking forward to another year of success stories for our theatres in 2014.”

Big openings during the year that helped drive the record results included The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which this week announced it had broken the record for the highest reported weekly gross sales, taking £1,080,260 in the week commencing December 30, 2013. Other highly successful runs included the Michael Grandage Company season at the Noel Coward, Helen Mirren as the Queen in The Audience at the Gielgud and another strong year from the National Theatre.

The average price paid for a ticket increased sharply from £37.86 in 2012 to £40.14 in 2013. This followed a dip in the average price paid in 2012. Notably, though, the difference between the price asked for a ticket and the price paid for a ticket has gone down – the average price asked was £47.66 in 2013 and £47.37 in 2012. This means that the margin (between price asked and price paid) reduced from 20% in 2012 to 15.5% in 2013. According to SOLT, this would suggest increased demand and a reduction in discounting across the industry in 2013.

Broken down by genre, the average price paid for a play was £32.95 and the average price paid for a musical ticket in 2013 was £43.34. Other entertainment was £42.10.

Meanwhile, SOLT members contributed £97.6 million in VAT – the highest level ever.

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