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Shows based on books and films sell five times more than original work – report

Lucie Jones as Elle Woods Photo credit Catherine Ashmore Lucie Jones in Legally Blonde at Leicester Curve in 2016. Stage adaptations of hit books and films outsell original works by nearly five times on average, a report claims. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
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Theatre productions adapted from books and films sell nearly five times more tickets than original scripts, according to new research by the Publishers Association.

The study is one of the first to examine closely the success of stage adaptations, and focuses on how the performance of plays and musicals is impacted when they are based on pre-existing source material as opposed to original scripts.

It was produced for the Publishers Association by Frontier Economics, and uses data from UK Theatre.

According to the report, which breaks down data from shows produced in 2016, adaptations took, on average, three-and-a-half times more at the box office and sold 4.8 times as many tickets as original productions.

Of this, film-based adaptations make up the lion’s share, with the report acknowledging that musicals based on films have become “extremely prominent” in recent years. Successful examples analysed include Sister Act, Billy Elliot, Legally Blonde and Dirty Dancing – all of which toured in 2016.

According to the figures, a family musical based on a film attracts more than six times the revenue of an original show.

Page-to-stage adaptations were also more successful than original productions, particularly when analysing plays. The report found that, in 2016, an original play achieved an average revenue of £41,000, while a play adapted from a literary source averaged nearly three times that: £115,000.

Productions based on books that were produced in 2016 include Peter James’ The Perfect Murder – starring Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace – and the national tours of Goodnight Mister Tom and Lord of the Flies.

Overall, the 279 adapted plays and musicals in 2016 accounted for £124 million of revenue. UK Theatre posted a total box office income in the same year of £470 million. However, this is made up of all genres including those not incorporated in this report such as stand-up comedy, pantomime and musical concerts.

As the figures were provided by UK Theatre, they do not include West End shows.

However, the study notes that more than 30% of the West End shows that have run for more than 3,000 performances use books as their original source material. Meanwhile, of the West End’s four longest-running productions, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in Black are all based on books, while the longest runner – Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – started life as a radio play and is drawn from a subsequent short story.

UK Theatre head Cassie Chadderton said: “It’s fascinating to see how our favourite narratives become popular works across the creative industries. From books to theatre to film and TV, great writing inspires great shows. Since the classics of the future must come from new writing, this report should remind us that we’ll need to continue to nurture talent today to attract audiences tomorrow.”

The report, called Publishing’s Contribution to the Wider Creative Industries, also covers films and TV series that have been adapted from books, finding they too generate more revenue and viewers.

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