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New work has overtaken revivals in UK theatre repertoire, report claims

Helen Mirren in The Audience, one of 2013's original plays. Photo: Johan Persson
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New work made up more than half of all productions staged in 2013, according to research into the output of 273 venues around the UK.

The British Theatre Consortium – a group of academics and playwrights formed in 2007 – collaborated with the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre to analyse the programme of 273 auditoria across both the subsidised and commercial sectors. In total, 1,771 productions were analysed.

It found that new work – including original plays, musicals, pantomime and opera – made up 59% of all productions, 66% of all performances, 63% of all seats sold and 66% of box office income.

The report, which states it is the “most comprehensive survey of theatre repertoire ever undertaken”, claims that this is the first time since records have been kept that new work has overtaken the number of revivals staged.

According to existing records, new work represented about 12% of productions between 1970 and 1985. In the 90s that proportion rose to around 20% and by 2008, the proportion had risen to over 40%.

Dan Rebellato, professor of contemporary theatre at Royal Holloway University, who led the report, said: “What we were most struck by in the research is that, despite reasonable fears that the theatre in these straitened times might fall back on ‘safer’ forms of theatre, like reviving the classics, in fact theatremakers and audiences seem to have turned to new work.”

He added: “From our research, it’s clear that, in 2013, new work dominated the repertoire for the first time in probably more than a century. We are keen to repeat the research for 2014 and 2015 to see if the fully implemented cuts in subsidy eventually do begin to show up in more cautious programming.”

The report reveals that 69% of the productions assessed could be defined as “straight theatre”, which does not include musicals, pantomimes, opera, physical theatre/dance or installations.

Of these straight productions, 69% were new work, which includes devised work alongside original plays.

Broken down further, new writing within the new work category  – including adaptations, translations, and new work for children and young people, but not devised work – made up 55% of all straight productions, 56% of performances and 53% of both seats sold and box office.

The report concludes that original plays made up 26% of the entire repertoire, 38% of all straight theatre and 45% of all new work.

Although the report claims the number of revivals have declined, it states that its audience has remained healthy, with classical drama (including Shakespeare) achieving 77% capacity, modern drama (1850-1945, including Chekhov, Ibsen and Coward) 62% and post-war drama 64%, compared to 62% capacity for new plays.

However, it claims that classical work represents a “fairly small part of the repertoire, performances and box office”.

The report also highlights that 36 long-running shows had more than 200 performances in 2013, which represented just 2% of productions but 45% of all seats sold.

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