January 26, 2009 / 12:47 AM / in 9 years

London theatres enjoy record 2008, caution in 2009

LONDON (Reuters) - London's West End theatres enjoyed record attendances and revenues in 2008, official figures showed on Monday, but bosses urged caution in 2009 as the recession deepens.

Last year 13.8 million tickets were sold between the Society of London Theatre's 52 members, which include all of the commercial West End traditionally dominated by musicals as opposed to plays.

That was up slightly on the 13.6 million of 2007. Musicals accounted for 9.0 million attendances last year and plays 2.9 million. Total revenues also rose marginally to a record 480.6 million pounds ($652 million), versus 2007's 469.9 million.

Theater bosses are relieved that the sector, which generates an estimated 1.5 billion pounds annually for the London economy, survived the financial crisis last year, although in 2008 there were early signs of a slowdown.

There have also been casualties blamed partly on the financial crisis, including "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and "Riflemind," although theater insiders suggest poor reviews may have had more to do with their early closures.

Top producer Cameron Mackintosh has also introduced the "Crunch Buster" family discount to help beat the recession.

"I tend to be cautiously optimistic, but at the moment I'm a bit more on the cautious side," Richard Pulford, chief executive of the Society, told Reuters.

"In the current economic climate anyone is cautious, whatever the sector. But there are some very encouraging indications, like advanced bookings holding up very well."

London may also benefit from the weakness of sterling, which boosts the spending power of key theater goers from abroad, particularly the United States.

"When the exchange rate (sterling) was very high versus the dollar, there was some anecdotal evidence that North Americans were not traveling so much, and this was reinforced by the effects of the credit crunch in North America."

The picture was not dissimilar to New York's Broadway last year, when shows grossed $940.9 million, a shade more than in 2007, and attendances also edged higher to 12.3 million.

Several Broadway shows could not secure the financing needed to open in the coming months, however, including "Godspell," "Vanities" and "For Colored Girls," and producers blamed the economy.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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