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West End audiences top 15 million for the first time, SOLT data reveals

Jamael Westman in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London. Photo: Matthew Murphy Hamilton opened at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre at the end of 2017. Photo: Matthew Murphy
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West End theatre audiences exceeded 15 million for the first time last year, as box office revenue also grew for the 14th year running.

This comes despite a difficult second half of the year as both audiences and revenue fell in the final quarter of 2017, compared to the previous year. This is according to the Society of London Theatre, which publishes the annual data.

Attendances in 2017 were up by 5.35% on 2016’s figure, the highest percentage growth in a decade, meaning West End productions were seen by a total of 15.1 million people last year.

This is the first time the figure has increased above 15 million since SOLT began recording box office data in 1986. In that year, attendances totalled 10.2 million.

These growing audience figures are set against an increase in the total number of performances last year – from 17,881 in 2016 to 18,203 in 2017 – and as the Victoria Palace, now home to Hamilton, reopened at the end of the year after a long period of refurbishment.

Despite the increase in total performances, the number of new productions fell by 18 year on year, indicating longer runs of shows.

Major openings in 2017 included musicals Hamilton, 42nd Street, Follies and Bat Out of Hell, and plays including Angels in America, Ink and Hamlet.

Overall, the West End’s box office grossed £705 million in 2017, surpassing the £700 million mark for the first time, and up 9.3% on the previous year.

The average ticket price paid also increased by 3.8% from £45 in 2016 to £46.71 in 2017. This is above the rate of inflation, which was 2.7% for the consumer prices index and 3.6% for the retail prices index.

SOLT said a mix of strong shows coupled with high levels of tourism, especially in the first half of the year, contributed to the record figures.

SOLT president Kenny Wax said the box office figures were “testament to the creative strength of London theatre and cements the city’s status as the world’s theatre capital”.

“The industry has many reasons to celebrate but must remain cautious as we look ahead to the rest of 2018. It is heartening to have seen growth in audiences for both plays and musicals. However, the year is a tale of two halves, with the industry operating in a tougher climate in the final two quarters,” he added.

The figures show a noticeable fall in both attendance and revenue in the final quarter of 2017, when this is compared to the West End’s performance in the previous year.

Attendances and gross revenue for the fourth quarter were down by 1.7% and 1.3% respectively. This comes at the end of a year which saw attendance record an 8.6% year-on-year increase in the first quarter and a 12.5% year-on-year increase in the second quarter.

Overall, revenue increased for both plays and musicals. Plays took £176.4 million at the box office last year – a year-on-year increase of 16% – while musical theatre brought in £436.6 million. This represents an increase of 9% on the previous year.

The data is drawn from London’s 53 major commercial and not-for-profit theatres in full SOLT membership – the same number as in 2016.

West End ticket sales – 2017 in numbers

  • £705 million: gross box office revenue
  • 15.1 million: total attendances
  • 18,203: total number of performances
  • 829: average attendance per performance
  • 258: number of new productions
  • 77.5%: percentage of available seats filled
  • £49.93: average price paid for a musical
  • £46.71: average price paid across all shows
  • £39.49: average price paid for a play
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