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London’s dominance of UK theatre is growing, says report

Joshua Jenkins and Gina Isaac in the UK tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Photo: Brinkoff/Moegenburg
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London is becoming an even more dominant force in the UK’s theatre sector, according to a new report.

The research, which looked at productions staged in theatres across the UK in 2014, also revealed the average price of tickets has increased by 6% since 2013 – markedly above the rate of inflation.

First published in 2013, the second edition of the British Theatre Repertoire report found that London staged an even greater proportion of theatre shows in 2014 – 22% of all productions in England, up from 19% in 2013.

It also hosted a greater proportion of the total number of performances (up to 54% from 50%), attracted a greater proportion of the total theatre audience (up to 62% from 59% in 2013) and brought in a greater proportion of total box office than ever before (up to 73% from 70% in 2013).

The findings follow pledges by Arts Council England to address the funding imbalance between the capital and the regions, with Darren Henley promising funding of the regions would increase from 70% to 75% of its lottery funding by 2018.

According to the report’s authors, the findings show “an increasingly startling concentration of activity in London”.

“Anyone with a commitment to the continuing vitality of all England’s regions should await next year’s figures with concern,” they added.

In total, theatres in the UK staged nearly 60,000 performances of more than 5,000 separate shows, which brought in more than 33 million theatre visits and £1.03 billion at the the box office. Attendances were up 1%, and box office was up 7%.

The average price paid for a ticket increased by 5.7% to £33.52, with people paying significantly more for musical tickets (£40.39) than for straight theatre (£25.99).

Opera was the most expensive ticket on average, with an average price paid of £56.61 (an increase of 9.1% on 2013).

The increase in both box office and ticket prices were both significantly above inflation, which averaged 2% over 2013 and 2014.

The report also claimed that government cuts to theatre funding have so far failed to dent the amount of new work being staged in the UK.

Between 2010 and 2015, the government has reduced its grant in aid funding of Arts Council from £438 million to £310 million – while funding of theatres by local governments has been cut by £31 million.

When it was first published last year, the British Theatre Repertoire report found new work had overtaken revivals in the theatre canon for the first time in 2013.

This year’s report found the make-up of the UK repertoire remained broadly unchanged in 2014, but with a few exceptions, including a slight shift from text-based to devised productions.

It also found that new work (classed as original plays, adaptations, translations, and devised shows) made up 62% of all theatre productions, an increase from the 59% in 2013.

This was driven by a notable increase in the number of devised pieces staged. Conversely, new writing suffered a small slump. It reaped less of its potential box office income than it did in 2013 (down from 63% to 49%) and sold a lower percentage of seats (down from 59% to 55%).

The report is based on work programmed by the 274 member theatres of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre during 2014.

Other key findings in the report included:

  • Seven out of 10 productions staged in 2014 were straight theatre, whereas musical theatre made up just 14%. Of straight theatre productions, 51% were new plays, 33% were revivals and 16% were devised shows.
  • The percentage of new plays written by women has remained static at 31%, but female-authored plays are playing in smaller theatres than those by male playwrights, in a “bleaker” picture for female playwrights than in 2013.On average, female-authored plays appeared in spaces 39% smaller than men (24% in 2013), while the average ticket price for a man’s play was £8.80 more expensive than a woman’s play (£27.59 compared to £18.79).
  • However, women wrote 57% of the new plays staged by both the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company – though only 33% of the Royal Court’s new writing.
  • Musicals brought in a markedly higher share of the total UK theatre box office than straight plays – taking 61% compared to 27% – and 51% of the total theatregoing audience compared to straight theatre, at 35%.
  • While there were only 36 ‘long-running shows’ (200 performances or more a year) in 2014, making up 2% of all productions, they brought in 56% of all box office income at UK theatres.
  • Wales is experiencing “a golden age of theatregoing”. The region recorded the greatest box office income to potential income ratio at 73% – 4% above the national average.

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