Page last updated at 23:30 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 00:30 UK

West End audiences defy recession

Billy Elliot
Musicals such as Billy Elliot continue to be popular

West End theatres appear to be thriving despite the recession, with figures showing record audiences.

Audiences in the 12 months to 18 July were up 2.5% on the similar period last year, with box office takings up 3.5%.

Nearly 7m visits were made to shows in the first half of the year, the Society of London Theatre said.

It said the figures were a "cause for celebration" and credited the quality of West End shows, with musicals remaining the most popular.

The society's figures indicated that 61% of all theatregoers had attended musicals such as Billy Elliot, Blood Brothers or Oliver!

'Breadth and quality'

Plays are also enjoying a good year. In the first six months of 2009, attendances at plays represented a quarter of all theatre visits, and were up 19% year-on-year at 1,886,586.

"I'm particularly thrilled that plays are thriving, as their demise has been regularly reported in the past," said society president Nica Burns.

At a time of economic uncertainty... they're choosing to come together in our theatres to be entertained, challenged, and uplifted
Richard Pulford, Society of London Theatre

"Today, the play is alive and well and living in the West End alongside our brilliant musicals and our world-class dance and opera.

"There's nowhere in the world that matches London for the breadth and quality of its theatre.

"We've got some great shows at the moment - it's as simple as that."

Last year more than 13m people attended London theatres and although attendances were down 5% in the first quarter of this year, they increased by 8% in the second quarter.

Audiences have been partly lifted by the trend for budget-conscious Britons to holiday at home rather than travel abroad, the society added.

The theatre is amazing and there is nothing like the feeling you get when the curtain goes up at the start
Idle Eric, Portsmouth,

Richard Pulford, chief executive of the society, which represents the major theatres, added: "The figures are a real cause for celebration - not just for the theatre industry, but for the London economy generally.

"At a time of economic uncertainty, it's marvellous that people aren't retreating into their shells. Instead, they're choosing to come together in our theatres to be entertained, challenged, and uplifted."

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