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West End theatres busier than ever in 2016 – SOLT

The Palace Theatre was dark for the first half of the year before the opening of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in June. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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West End theatres are at their busiest since records began, with Theatreland also reporting a 13th year of growth at the box office in 2016.

Average attendance per show indicates audience levels have jumped from 776 per performance in 2015 to 801 in 2016, the latest annual figures from the Society of London Theatre show.

This is the highest average audience level per performance since SOLT began measuring box office figures in 1986. The previous record set in 2009 was 797.

The figures also show that 76.7% of available seats were filled in 2016, also setting a new record and increasing by 4.1% on the previous year.

This comes despite the fact that total attendances were down year on year, recording 14.3 million attendances in 2016 compared with 2015's 14.7 million. This was primarily due to fewer performances and fewer open theatres in 2016, while several major venues had dark periods.

These include the Victoria Palace, which remains closed for refurbishment, and the Palace, which was dark for the first half of the year before the opening of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in June.

Overall, the West End took gross box-office revenue of £644.7 million in 2016, up from £633.7 million in 2015.

The average ticket price paid also increased by 4.6%, rising from £42.99 in 2015 to £44.99 in 2016. This is significantly above the rate of inflation, which was 1.6% for the consumer prices index and 1.8% for the retail prices index.

SOLT said the increase in the average price paid suggested an increase in demand and a reduction in discounting.

SOLT president Caro Newling added: "With our shows performing to record numbers, the box office figures for 2016 further cement London’s place as a world leader in theatre.

"Revenues are just one measure of success; what we are most proud of is that new generations of theatregoers are drawn to the capital, home of the world’s greatest creative talent, by our peerless ability to craft and tell the stories that resonate.”

Major openings in 2016 included Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Aladdin and Funny Girl.

Individually, revenue for both plays and musicals increased in 2016, with plays performing particularly well.

Play revenue was up 8% on 2015, taking £153 million. This reversed the 4% decline seen in 2015. Attendance for plays also increased in 2016, by 2%.

Musicals took £401 million at the box office, a 4% year-on-year increase, however attendance was down 2%.

The average price paid for a ticket to a musical increased to £49.28 from £46.25 in 2015. Audiences for plays paid an average of £36.48 in 2016, which also represents an increase from 2015's £34.30.

Attendance and revenue for opera, dance, performance and entertainment both declined by 15% in 2016. This is at odds with the 14% attendance increase and 15% revenue increase reported the previous year.

The results include figures from London's 53 major commercial and not-for-profit theatres in full SOLT membership, the same number as in 2015.

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