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Summary text from The London Theatre Report 2014

London Theatre Report 2014The LONDON THEATRE REPORT 2014 is the first comprehensive analysis showing the significance and variety of London theatre. The full report is extensive and on a pdf document covers some 48 pages.

The report has been commissioned by the National Theatre and the Society of London Theatre ‘SOLT’ and is authored by Alistair Smith. The author worked closely with key figures from the London theatre industry – Nick Starr (National Theatre Executive Director), Julian Bird (Chief Executive of SOLT), Mark Rubinstein (Independent producer and former SOLT President), Kate Horton (Independent producer and former National Theatre Deputy Executive Director), Matthew Byam Shaw (Independent producer) and David Brownlee (UK Theatre Executive Director).

Rather than re-writing the text and putting a ‘different spin’ on it, the following is selected quoted text from the full report. For full details, read the full report.

Extracts from The London Theatre report:
London theatre is widely held to be enjoying a golden period. Both artistically and at the box office, it is booming. Shows like War Horse, Matilda and Billy Elliot are popular hits both at home and abroad; new channels of distribution are being found for theatre via cinema screenings and online broadcasts; 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 un-matched 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.

London is one of the two great theatre capitals of the world, along with New York. It has a vibrant theatre scene that ranges from big budget large-scale musicals to small avant-garde theatre productions performed in found spaces.

Overall, Greater London boasts 241 professional theatre spaces with a seating capacity of more than 110,000.  On figures available (for Broadway), West End theatre attendances outstrip Broadway attendances by 20%.

London has 241 theatres with more than 110,000 seats. We knew lots of people went to the theatre in London every year, this report tells us how many (more than 22 million in 2012/13) and where those audiences are focussed.

Firstly, this report attempts no measure of profits. It would be dangerous to assume that because box office has increased between 2011/12 and 2012/13 that profits have also. Indeed the average ticket price paid appears to be falling.

There is also a very clear imbalance between Inner and Outer London in levels of provision. Theatre activity is heavily focussed on the centre of the capital. While Inner London theatres, of course, serve the whole of Greater London (and beyond), some areas of the capital have very little local theatre offering.

A few notes of caution, though. While this report paints an undoubtedly (and fairly) rosy picture of London theatre that should be celebrated, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that there are a number of threats to its future prosperity.

The employment chapter of this report most certainly throws up the spectre of low pay or no pay work (if one can call it that) within the London fringe sector. The vast majority of roles within this sector are not being paid national minimum wage, revealing that as well as a subsidy from the government, at the bottom end, the London theatre sector as a whole is being subsidised by people giving up their time for no or little pay.

London has 241 professional theatre spaces, with more than 110,000 seats. These are located largely in Inner London and specifically Westminster and Camden. In terms of theatre capacity (number of seats), there is a nearly even split (50/50) between the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. The fringe only accounts for 3.6%. The largest theatre space regularly used for theatre (or in its case opera) is the Coliseum, home to English National Opera, with 2,359 seats. London’s smallest regularly used professional theatre is the Lord Stanley pub theatre with 30 seats. The commercial West End (42 theatres in Westminster and Camden with more than 42,500 seats) represents more than a third of all of London’s theatre capacity.

Arts Council England-funded NPOs account for 76 theatre spaces and 28,514 seats. The vast majority of these are in Inner London (62 spaces / 25,026 seats). Overall, Greater London boasts 241 professional theatre spaces with a seating capacity of more than 110,000.

Westminster alone accounts for 39% of Greater London’s theatre capacity and 22% of its theatre spaces. It has 53 theatre spaces and more than 40,000 seats.

The five boroughs with the greatest theatre capacity are all in Inner London. Croydon, the Outer London borough with the highest theatre capacity (2,606) would be placed eighth in capacity list.

The Inner London borough with the fewest seats is Wandsworth with 570. Two boroughs, both in Outer London, have no permanent professional theatres – Ealing and Bexley (Bexley does have an occasional open air theatre, Ealing has a permanent amateur theatre).

At more than 1,500 seats Shakespeare’s Globe is London’s largest not-for-profit to operate without regular arts council subsidy. At 50 seats, Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell is the smallest.

Fringe theatres are small. They have a (mean) average of 85 seats and a median average of around 65 seats. They are often located above or behind pubs and they are generally not funded. For the sake of this report, any regularly funded theatres that might fall into this category (such as the Gate) are classified as not-for-profit theatres, as they operate in a more similar way to these theatres than those in the Fringe category. Likewise theatres such as the Blue Elephant in Camberwell, which has an extensive education programme and is funded by its local council, operates more similarly to a not-for-profit than a traditional fringe theatre and is therefore classified in that group.

On average, more than 3,000 performers are engaged by London theatres at any one time. At any one time, more than 6,500 full-time staff are engaged by London theatres, with a further 5,000+ part-time staff and 5,000+ freelance staff.

Only 1 in 5 actors on the Fringe are being paid National Minimum Wage or above. London is the biggest centre of theatre employment in the UK and one of the biggest theatrical employers (perhaps the biggest employer –there are no comparable figures) in the world.

At any one time (in the case of our survey July 5) London’s professional theatres are engaging an estimated 3,141 performers. Of these 3,141 performers (including musicians as well as actors, dancers, opera singers etc), nearly 2,300 were engaged in a current production with a further nearly 850 in rehearsal.

London is the biggest centre of theatre employment in the UK and one of the biggest theatrical employers (perhaps the biggest employer –there are no comparable figures) in the world.

At any one time (in the case of our survey July 5) London’s professional theatres are engaging an estimated 3,141 performers. Of these 3,141 performers (including musicians as well as actors, dancers, opera singers etc), nearly 2,300 were engaged in a current production with a further nearly 850 in rehearsal.

Note: This is obviously a figure that fluctuates throughout the year and, in fact, one would expect this to be a significant under-estimate when compared to busier times of the theatre calendar, such as Christmas, when theatres are at their busiest and often stage large-scale family shows and pantomimes, which can have larger than average cast sizes.

PERFORMERS: Of course, it is not only on stage where London theatres are acting as a major employer. In fact, there are many more people being engaged in off-stage or back-stage work than as performers at any one time. London’s theatres currently engage an estimated 6,655 full time staff, with a further 5,323 part-time and 5,771 freelance engagements.

Unsurprisingly, given that the vast majority of the capital’s theatre stock is focussed in Inner London (see Chapter 1), employment opportunities are also focussed in the centre of the city. More than 90% of actors are engaged in work in Inner London (this is roughly in line with attendance and box office figures, see Chapter 3).

The commercial West End engages around a third (35%) of all performers appearing in London theatres at any one time. When this is extended to include all members of the Society of London Theatre, including unfunded not-for-profits such as Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park Open Air and funded not-for-profits like the National Theatre and Royal Opera House, this figure increases to 59%.

Fringe theatres engage 12% of all London performers.

When it comes to performers, in the commercial sector all adult performers are being paid NMW or above. The non-commercial area is, on the whole paying performers NMW or above (84%). The majority of the 16% who are not being paid NMW are volunteers (often community volunteers / amateurs).

The fringe sector is where the vast majority of low or no paid work is taking place. From the 22 responses we received, only 20% of performers are being paid NMW. Around a third (33.5%) are being paid nothing at all, with nearly half (46%) being paid something, but less than NMW. This would make sense, bearing in mind the large amount of ‘expenses only’ or ‘profit-share’ work taking place on the fringe.

Full time staff All full time staff in the commercial sector are being paid NMW or above. A very small number of full time staff in the non-commercial sector (0.3%) are engaged at less than NMW (likely to be apprentices or under-18), there are no full time volunteers. In the fringe sector, 73% of full time staff are being paid National Minimum Wage or above, 26% are volunteers and 1% are being paid, but less than NMW.

London theatre takes more £600 million at the box office. Audiences of more than 22 million visited London theatres in 2012/13.

Both box office and attendance at London theatres are increasing – box office was up 1.6% and attendances 5.5% year on year from 2011/12 to 2012/13 (although yield fell) London theatre is better attended than Premier League football and takes more at the box office than London’s cinemas. Average price paid for a London theatre ticket is £27.76 (in 2012/13) Nearly a quarter (24%) of holiday visitors who stay in London will go to the theatre.

In 2011/12, the commercial West End accounted for £400 million, up to £403 million in 2012/13 (an increase of 0.75%). Note: A number of the shows running in commercial theatres originated and/or are produced by not-for-profit organisations. According to the methodology of this report, they are classified as commercial theatre
Attendance: The only reliable figures for London theatre attendance up until now have been SOLT’s annual box office data report. The most recent report (covering the 2013 calendar year) shows attendances of 14.6 million people.

However, this only counts attendances at SOLT member venues. We discovered that overall London theatre attendance is, in fact, significantly higher. London’s non-SOLT theatres account for a larger proportion of cumulative tickets sold than cumulative box office income.

Total attendance across all London’s theatres was 21 million in 2011/12, increasing by 5.2% to 22 million in 2012/13.

Ticket Prices: The average price paid for a London theatre ticket was £27.76 in 2012/13, down by more than £1 on the year before (3.7% decrease). There is a very significant difference between the average price paid for a ticket in Inner and Outer London.

On average, tickets in Inner London are more than twice as expensive as those in Outer London. The average price paid in the commercial West End in 2012/13 was £36.05, slightly up on 2011/12 when it was £35.48.

Theatre Tourism: According to the most recent report from Visit Britain, 24% of holiday visitors who stay in London will go to the theatre, resulting in an estimation of just over 2 million international tourists overall enjoying a show in the capital every year.
The most recent SOLT demographic survey estimates that around 3 in 10 West End audience members come from overseas.

Audiences: The most recent survey of West End audiences was in 2008 (The West End Theatre Audience: A Research Study for the Society of London Theatre by Ipsos MORI). The most recent survey of London Fringe audiences was in 2011 (The Fringe & Off West End Audience Report 2011).
The West End report revealed that: 68% of respondents were female / 32% male. The average age of respondents was 43. 72% were under 55, 28% above 55+ years of age. 92% of respondents were white. Average income was £31,500 (in 2008). 45% were visiting the theatre with their partner.

Read the full report at

Wednesday 30th July 2014


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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