Slump in regional theatre attendance leads to warning over rising ticket prices
Regional theatre attendance has fallen in the past year, as has the total taken at the box office, according to new figures.
The latest figures from UK Theatre come with a warning from its president, Fiona Allan, that they could indicate a shift towards prices becoming unaffordable for audiences.
UK Theatre’s member venues, comprising more than 200 auditoria, took a reduced total of £469.8 million from ticket sales in 2017, down £1.9 million on the previous year.
The total number of tickets sold was also less than in 2016, falling 1.87% from 19 million to 18.7 million.
This represents the largest year-on-year reduction in both the number of tickets sold and the gross income since UK Theatre began recording this data in 2013.
This is despite a 2.9% increase in the total number of performances in 2017 – to 44,135 – meaning the average attendance per performance has dropped from 445 to 424.
The average ticket price has also risen by 1.5% to £25.08, breaking the £25 mark for the first time.
The figures underline the ongoing challenges faced by regional theatres, including reduced funding and tough operating costs, Allan said.
She praised the industry for its “continued strength and resilience” despite the economic climate, but said: “While it is fantastic to see more performances around the country, it is notable that revenue and attendances haven’t also risen. It is too soon to say whether these figures are an anomaly, or whether they may signal a growing disparity between what theatre audiences are able to pay and the amount theatres now charge.
“If a trend does appear over the next few years, the industry will need to explore ways of working ever more creatively to retain and grow audiences in a landscape of reduced funding and tough operating costs.”
When combined with the Society of London Theatre’s 2017 figures – for West End venues – box office income in theatres across the country totalled £1.17 billion last year. This is higher than the previous year’s total of £1.12 billion, thanks to increased revenue in the West End.
The figures also come as many areas grapple with continued cuts to local authority arts budgets, and amid mounting concern over the impact this will have on theatre.
Local authority funding for Arts Council England’s national portfolio plummeted by £14 million in 2016/17. Research conducted by the Labour Party in 2016 claimed that £165 million had been lost to the arts and heritage since 2010.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre lost 52% of its local authority grant between 2010 and 2016, while Bristol Old Vic is facing a cut to its council funding of 65% this year.
HQ Theatres Trust chairman Stephen Hetherington warned last year that local authority cuts could lead to a “breakdown” in British theatre.
Box office takings 2017
Total UK (UK Theatre and SOLT)
2017: £1.17 billion
2016: £1.12 billion
Regional (UK Theatre)
2017: £469.8 million
2016: £471.7 million
West End (SOLT)
2017: £705 million
2016: £644.7 million