Best in showbiz: West End wipes the floor with Broadway


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The Independent Culture

The roof might be falling in at some venerable venues but London has supplanted New York as the most significant theatre capital in the world, a new report claims.

The analysis, published by the Society of London Theatre, revealed that, in 2012/13, London theatre took £618.5m at the box office, a bigger amount taken than at cinemas in the capital.

More than 22 million people attended London Theatre performances, 40 per cent more than the 13 million who attended Premier League football matches.

The variety of spaces on offer – from the award-winning Yard at Hackney Wick to commercial houses in the West End – and the diversity of productions currently playing, allows London to claim the preeminent position on the global stage, the first London Theatre Report argued.

Greater London boasts 241 professional theatres spaces with a seating capacity of 110,000, according to the study, the first quantitative analysis of London's theatre ecology. West End attendances “outstripped Broadway by 20 per cent,” it claimed.

The theatregoing experience now surpassed Broadway, despite the capital’s ageing venues, brought into sharp focus following the roof collapse at the Apollo Theatre last December, injuring 76 people during a performance of The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time.

Nick Allott, who runs the Delfont Mackintosh theatres in the West End, including the Noel Coward, Prince Edward and Gielgud Theatres, said: “Is Broadway such a wonderful experience to hold up? Anyone who goes there regularly knows there is a shortage of decent front of house space – there are massive queues for the toilets for men and woman and a lack of bar space. I don’t think London is being held back by a crumbling theatre stock.”

Whilst New York theatres are often “dark” for eight or nine months at a time, waiting for the next commercially viable production, West End producers prefer to try and fill buildings with new shows, Mr Allott said.

London needs even more venues to meet the public demand, said Nick Starr, Executive Director of the National Theatre. “We’ve had shows which we can’t transfer to the West End, which could play to tens of thousands of people, because there isn’t a commercial theatre available to take them.”

Musicals such as ‘Miss Saigon’ have turned London into the theatre capital of the world (Rex)

A new 350-seat theatre on the site of the old Astoria music venue on Charing Cross Road will help increase the capital’s theatre capacity.

Mr Starr also asked: “Are we growing enough producers, directors, writers and composers to take up the strain in future years? We need the next generation.”

Despite the rosy picture of the West End painted in the report, subsidised theatre is having to face up to significant funding cuts, whilst the survey found that that only one in five actors working on the London Fringe are being paid National Minimum Wage or above.

Authored by Alistair Smith, editor of The Stage, the report warns that “with funding levels falling for the subsidised companies in the face of tightening public purses, it would be rather optimistic to think this will not have some effect on the overall ecology of theatre in the capital”.

The average ticket price for a commercial West End show rose from £35.48 to £36.05 in 2012/13. But the introduction of “premium” pricing for the best stalls seats, has now inflated the cost of the best seats in the house for The Book Of Mormon to £152.25.

However the average price of a ticket across Greater London fell by more than a £1 to £27.76, the report found, boosted by initiatives like the Michael Grandage Company offering 100,000 West End tickets for just £10.

Cinema takings for Greater London in 2013 reached £325.5m, the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association said, confirming that theatres had taken more money.

However the average cinema ticket cost just £6.57, considerably less than the £27.76 average for a theatre visit.

Mr Smith listed the achievements which have pushed the West End ahead of Broadway: “Inventive companies like Punchdrunk are pushing the boundaries of what theatre is, while also making work that appeals to large audiences;  the West End has reported its tenth consecutive year of record box office takings; work originating in our not-for-profit theatres like Shakespeare’s Globe is the toast of New York.”

“Audiences in London have an unmatched variety of theatre and theatres on offer – from ambitious and experimental new writing in tiny backrooms above pubs to large scale musicals in the commercial West End and superb classical revivals in subsidised venues,” Mr Smith said.

Boris Johnson, London Mayor, said: “London is without doubt the theatre capital of the world. From the bright lights of the West End and our thriving fringe, to the rise of immersive theatre in the unlikeliest of places, the quality, variety and breadth on offer here is unrivalled.”

He added: “Employing thousands and bringing in almost £620 million a year, theatre is also hugely important to our economy. This timely report puts the spotlight on the economics of the sector and provides food for thought about what is needed to ensure we enjoy many more encores for years to come.”