Theatreland is (appropriately) always a dramatic place, but even by industry standards 2012 was a particularly eventful year. The Queen's Jubilee and the triumphant Olympics and Paralympics meant all eyes were on the UK, and of course London. Much debate in the Capital was focused on whether these events would be harmful or helpful to various sectors, including the live entertainment industry. In practice a complex picture emerged - one which saw a temporary dip in takings, combined with spiked increases, followed by a return to normality. In the end Theatreland, like so much else, reaped the benefits of global attention and high visitor numbers.
The political landscape also presented challenges. The commercial and subsidised theatre sectors are of enormous benefit to the UK and it is vital their importance is recognised and supported by the Government. In fact, West End theatre alone is known to be worth in excess of £3 billion in directly associated revenue. Having previously spoken on the intrinsic importance of cultural industries to the UK economy the Chancellor proceeded to savage them as soon as he came to power, so much so that many related sectors, in particular theatre, are still reeling from the implications of last year's budget cuts. Happily our unrivalled creativity has been helping us to weather the storm and, despite the odds, London continues to produce world-leading arts, culture and entertainment; all valuable, global exports.
So what does 2013 have in store for us? I predict that this year will be nothing short of spectacular, breaking ALL records for attendances and receipts, in both London's Theatreland AND across more regional cultural capitals. In fact, I am confident that West End attendances will break 14.5 million for the first time ever and that in 2013 we will once again break box office revenue records with over £560 million of ticket sales.
There are various reasons for this. Firstly the numbers are looking very good. VisitBritain's annual report (released in November) predicted a significant rise in tourist numbers, forecasting 31.7 million visitors for this year which will equate to almost one million more people than in 2012. The Society of London Theatre's annual box office figures for 2012 are about to be released, but forecasts point to another successful twelve months with advance bookings for 2013 already at record-breaking levels.
Of course there is much more to this than just the numbers. With productions including Book of Mormon, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Chorus Line and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time due to arrive in the next few months, as well as the return of stage and screen stars such Kristin Scott Thomas, Daniel Radcliffe, Rufus Sewell, Lee Evans and Helen Mirren and the National Theatre continuing its unparalleled run of excellence, we're banking on more than just high visitor numbers and the general popularity of the theatre to get bums on seats.
The UK produces the best theatre in the world, a fact we are rightly famous for and one that is crucial to our tourism industry. Despite our continuing economic challenges, 2013 is set to be an artistically thrilling and commercially spectacular twelve months.