Attendance down a bit in 2011

London box office hit a record high in 2011 for the eighth year in a row, according to the official figures newly published by the Society of London Theater (SOLT).

Total revenues reached £528,375,874 ($839 million), up 3% increase on 2010 figures and topping £500 million for the third time ever. Some of the rise is attributable to the raising of VAT (U.K. sales tax) from 17.5% to 20% of gross; without it the increase is about 1%.

Attendance, however, did not rise along with revenue. Although average attendance per performance was up 10 tickets from last year to reach 770, attendance overall dipped around 2% to a 13,915,185 total across 52 houses, both commercial and not-for-profit.The drop is directly attributable to the 146 dark weeks in commercial venues. That unusually high figure reps a steep climb on the 85 dark weeks of 2010. Notably, two of London’s largest houses, the Theater Royal Drury Lane and the London Palladium — with a combined seating capacity of 4,474 — were both closed for several months to facilitate extended load-ins of large-scale shows “Shrek the Musical” and “The Wizard of Oz,” respectively.

“It indicates that a huge investment in new shows has paid off,” said SOLT prexy Mark Rubinstein. “At a time when people are obviously being careful with their money, it shows we all still want to be entertained by live theater.”

Last year was a good one for plays. SRO runs of “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Jerusalem,” “Richard III” with Kevin Spacey, “Yes, Prime Minister,” “The Ladykillers,” “Frankenstein,” “Noises Off,” “One Man, Two Guvnors” (at both the National and in the West End) and a further year of “War Horse” contributed to a revenue rise of 10% (with an attendance boost of 2%) for plays. Tuner revenue climbed 1% to £328,813,525 ($516 million), albeit with a 3% drop in attendance due to the dark weeks.

Performances in other categories — opera, dance, performance, entertainment — saw revenue up 1% to £81,720,277 ($128 million) with a 4% drop in attendance.

Although the U.K. is undergoing a slowdown in economic growth amid fears of a double-dip recession, Rubinstein remains confident about the future.

“The first quarter of 2011 was actually down 11%, but then things improved,” he said. “Attendances for the final quarter of 2011 were 4% up on the previous year and remain so for the first two weeks of this year. Aside from the first two weeks of last year, advances in 2011 consistently outstripped 2010, and they remain just as high.”

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