August 6, 2009 / 11:57 PM / 10 years ago

London theatre booming despite recession

LONDON (Reuters) - Record numbers are flocking to London’s theatres as cash-strapped Britons follow the global trend of taking holidays at home during the recession.

The Society of London Theater said on Friday that total attendance for the year to July 18 was up 2.5 percent from the same period last year and box office receipts were up 3.5 percent. Nearly 7 million visits were made to London theatres in the first half of 2009.

“Today’s figures are a real cause for celebration — not just for the theater industry, but for the London economy generally,” said Richard Pulford, the society’s chief executive.

All types of production are doing well with a strong showing by dramas and comedies, putting to rest fears that they were falling out of favor as musicals dominated the West End.

Musicals remain the most popular attraction with 61 per cent of theatergoers attending London productions. However plays are also posting excellent results, with audiences up 19 percent year-on-year.

“Oliver,” “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Sister Act” are among the most popular musicals while “Calendar Girls,” “Hamlet” and “Waiting For Godot” were some of the favorite plays, the society said.

Last year over 13 million people attended London theatres, so matching those figures was expected to be difficult against the backdrop of the economic crisis.

In fact, attendance was down 5 percent in the first quarter but came storming back in the second quarter with an increase of 8 percent, said the society, which represents the major London theatres.

Audiences have been lifted by the trend for the budget-conscious to holiday at home rather than travel, the society said. The drawing power of stars such as Jude Law and Helen Mirren also helped.

Reporting by Alex Wainwright; Editing by Paul Casciato

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