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Editor’s view: Are ticket prices too high? Not if audiences are voting with their feet

The Book of Mormon in the West End: audiences continue to flock to the show. Photo: Johan Persson
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West End box office has gone up for a 13th year in a row.

It’s tempting to just shrug your shoulders and think ’premium prices’ – and it is undeniable that ticket prices in the West End have gone up over the years, sometimes at an alarming rate. This year, the average price paid has hit nearly £45.

But people seem willing to pay these higher prices. In fact, if you look at the secondary market for shows like Harry Potter and Hamilton, there’s a strong argument that many West End shows are actually offering artificially low prices for their tickets. Certainly, there is a market out there that is willing to pay even more.

But, I can hear you say: ‘West End box office might have gone up, but attendances have gone down for the second year in a row. Surely that is an indicator that producers have pushed ticket prices as far as they can go and audiences are now reacting against them?’

Well, no, I don’t think so. Looking at the 2016 figures in greater detail, it would seem that the drop in attendances is pretty much solely caused by the fact that there were -– on average – fewer theatres open during 2016 than in 2015 and therefore fewer performances.

If you think about it, the Victoria Palace closed in April when Billy Elliot left the building, the Palace Theatre was dark for some time before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened and the Palladium had a few dark periods during 2016 as well.

If you dig down into the numbers a little more, you see that the average attendance per performance – a good indicator of demand – took a significant leap up in 2016, as did percentage capacity achieved. This is good news and a sign of a healthy industry.

Looking ahead to 2017’s figures, there are likely to be more dark theatres in the numbers – the Victoria Palace will be closed for most of the year, and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane has had a dark period in between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and 42nd Street. Likewise the Dominion before An American in Paris, and the London Palladium will not have had a theatre show in between the Cinderella panto and The Wind in the Willows in June.

Those are several of London’s biggest theatres with empty seats. As for ticket prices, they are likely to continue to increase in the commercial sector as long as demand does.

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