London’s Theatreland

More than 50 theatres make up London’s “Theatreland”. It presents more shows and has bigger audiences than anywhere else in the world including New York’s Broadway. Its value to Britain’s economy is enormous and I am fortunate to be the Member of Parliament for the area. I only wish I had enough time to visit the theatres on my doorstep on a more regular basis.

One of the unrealised delights of this wonderfully bright and exciting area of London is that it also contains a strong residential community. From Piccadilly Circus through the length of Shaftesbury Avenue and beyond, there are many residents with apartments above the local shops, primary schools and many other vital parts of community living.

Visitors therefore take home a different experience during the day than they get at night. All of this makes for a continually vibrant living area.

The value and importance of the West End theatre to the British economy has been underlined in many studies over the last ten years and all of them have remarked on its importance. In the first ever investigation in 1998, the Wyndham Report showed that more than 40,000 jobs depended on West End theatres with the economic impact running to over £1 billion. In 2004 the Arts Council study showed this figure to have increased to £1.5 billion with increasing employment.

During the months following the New York bombing in September 2001, visitor numbers from abroad and from the UK dropped dramatically causing a 20% drop in theatre attendances and great difficulty to central London’s economy. With the creation of the congestion charge in February 2003, London’s theatres felt a chill blast for a while with Londoners staying away from the centre. After the 7 July bombings last year retailers, theatres and entertainment centres again noticed a fall off in visitors but despite these regular setbacks London’s West End continues to thrive.

Morale and confidence has improved significantly because the management and staff of London’s theatre world have become much more professional. There has been a great deal of good planning and marketing amongst theatre owners and also an exceptional roster of successful shows, which have enjoyed long runs. Experts agree that the West End has an exceptionally strong offering at the moment. Although it should be on the crest of a wave, the current climate after the terrorist attacks means that some shows will struggle to recoup their investment.

On a more positive note ticket prices in the West End have moved into line with sporting events now and the rewards have been improving for all. That includes the small shopkeepers, family restaurants and hotels, many of whom have become adept at creating special priced offers for pre-theatre dinners and overnight package stays with theatre tickets included.

It has all added up to a positive vision for the future of Theatreland. In the Arts Council report audience members were identified as spending an average of nearly £54 on food, transport and childcare in addition to the ticket cost of the theatre.

The latest good news for the West End is that the musical composer and impresario, Lord Andrew Webber, is launching two major new productions of the hit shows, The Sound of Music and Evita this year. There is also an expectation that he will be buying many of London’s oldest theatres in the near future to refurbish them for the increasing audiences and ticket demand for the top productions.

Hopefully it shows that London’s “theatreland” is capable of entering a period of major growth again. May it herald a New Golden Age for the West End theatre, which we trust will be accompanied by a long period of peace for all London’s residents, tourists and visitors.