2008 hits new highs despite financial crisis

Despite the sharp economic downturn in the final quarter, London theater had a record-breaking year in 2008, with attendance for the year totaling 13,807,286, up 1% on the previous record set in 2007. Box office revenue hit £480,563,674 ($658 million), a 3% rise on the 2007 high.

Released Sunday by the Society of London Theaters (SOLT), the figures are particularly impressive given both the financial crisis and the fact that 2007 totals already had leaped an unprecedented 10% to a peak many commentators had considered unbeatable.

The strong annual result came as a surprise even to SOLT officials.

“We had a fantastic first six months but then a relative cooling of demand that coincided with the growing economic malaise,” commented SOLT commercial manager Paul James. “By the end of November, we’d seen a reduction of between 1% and 2%. What surprised us was the strength of the holiday period, which rose upwards of 10% on Christmas and New Year’s last year.”

SOLT is particularly pleased with the 2008 figures because they are not the result of a slew of major heavy-hitting new West End arrivals. “These figures represent people creating business on existing shows that were sold particularly well,” said James.

Musicals ended the year 1% up on 2007. Plays were 1% down, despite enjoying a strong final quarter. Dance, opera, performances and other entertainment collectively rose by 5%.

The figures relate to the 52 theaters represented in SOLT membership, including all the commercial West End plus major grant-aided London theaters such as the National Theater, Royal Opera House and Donmar Warehouse.

James concedes that 2009 is likely to be tougher.

“We will be up against it, but there is no sign of an Armageddon scenario,” he explained. “Clearly, we’re not immune to the downturn, but box office advances are reasonably steady.”

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