In figures released by the Society of London Theatre, the trade association which represents West End producers, theatre owners and managers of the major commercial and grant-aided theatres in London, 2009 marks the seventh consecutive year in a row that these records have both been broken. Revenue was £504,765,69, up 7.6 percent on a like-for-like basis on the previous year; and attendance was 14,257,922, up 5.5 percent on the same period in 2008. According to the press announcement, "the size of the increase, achieved against a backdrop of economic recession, represent a stunning performance by the sector."
Plays saw a 26 percent increase in attendance over 2008, with total attendance of 3,637,714 earning revenues of £97,373,778, while opera, dance and entertainment were up 7 percent, with revenues of £78,453,143. Musicals registered a small decline, down 2 percent for the year with revenues of £328,938,769, but this was mainly attributed to the early months of 2009. By the final quarter, attendances were up 4 percent and many shows announced record figures.
Among other box office records broken last year, Billy Elliot had its best-ever week over the Christmas period, Sister Act broke the London Palladium's box office records for the highest-ever takings on a single show, Mamma Mia! grossed its biggest weekly amount in the show's history, Oliver! broke all previous records at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane during October's school holiday break.
(When reporting grosses, Playbill.com points out that today's higher ticket prices can contribute to the box-office record-breaking status of some productions.)
The Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park saw The Importance of Being Earnest play to 96.5 percent of capacity and Hello, Dolly! grossing £1.2 million, the highest ever in the history of the theatre; and the Donmar Warehouse's West End season at Wyndham's played to 96 percent of capacity. In a press statement, Nica Burns, president of SOLT, commented, "Britain's artistic community continues to create exceptional work. The extraordinary quality and breadth of productions available nightly in London explains these record figures in such a difficult year economically. Whilst our musicals continue to flourish, 2009 was an outstanding year for plays – proving that audiences respond to challenge and stimulation as well as toe-tapping entertainment. Excellence is everything – look no further than London's theatre which adds a great deal more to London's revenue than just the ticket sales."