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Cuts yet to bite at box office as UK theatres bank £1.1bn

High-profile touring shows such as Dirty Dancing helped boost UK box office in 2016. Photo: Alastair Muir High-profile touring shows such as Dirty Dancing helped boost UK box office in 2016. Photo: Alastair Muir
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Theatres around the UK took a record £1.12 billion at the box office in 2016, despite severe local authority funding cuts.

Industry body UK Theatre has released its 2016 box office figures for member organisations. These include the majority of UK theatres outside London and show overall ticket sales of £471.7 million – an increase of 3.6% on equivalent figures from 2015, and the highest since records began in 2013.

President of UK Theatre Fiona Allan said the industry had shown “remarkable resilience” in a challenging financial climate.

The results have been achieved in the face of huge funding cuts, which have seen more than £165 million of arts funding cut by local councils in England since 2010, with areas particularly affected including Birmingham, Bath and Bristol.

When combined with the Society of London Theatre’s 2016 figures, which include the principal West End and London theatres, box office income across the whole of the UK totalled £1.12 billion in 2016. This marked an increase of £30 million on 2015.

Box office takings 2016

Total UK (UK Theatre and SOLT combined)

  • 2016: £1.12 billion
  • 2015: £1.09 billion

Regional (UK Theatre)

  • 2016: £471.7 million
  • 2015: £455.3 million

West End (SOLT)

  • 2016: £644.7 million
  • 2015: £633.8 million

The data from UK Theatre also revealed that the average ticket price for its member theatres in 2016 was £24.71, increasing by more than 4% on the previous year.

Approximately 19.1 million tickets sold across 42,866 productions.

Audience attendance decreased slightly in 2016 – by 0.57% – however, the increase in ticket prices, thought to be driven by high-profile tours such as Dirty Dancing and Wicked, meant that overall box office takings rose.

Allan said: “These figures demonstrate the remarkable resilience of the theatre industry across the UK. Although we’ve been operating in a challenging financial climate, people clearly value the outstanding work produced on our stages.

“We can be proud that the UK remains a world leader in performing arts and is home to the most innovative drama, dance and opera companies.”

Figures released by UK Theatre in March showed that in 2016, 60% of income from theatres around the country came from touring shows, and of the income generated by touring shows, two thirds of this came from musicals.

The new data from UK Theatre also revealed that the average number of tickets sold per performance in 2016 was 445.

This is similar to the number of tickets sold per performance in 2015, representing a small increase of 0.4%. In the West End, this figure increased by 3.2% over the same period, according to SOLT figures.

UK Theatre’s 2016 figures came from 253 spaces, including some SOLT affiliate venues that are not included in the main SOLT data.

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