NT Beats Recession & Records with 93% HousesDate: 22 September 2009
The National Theatre seems to be bucking the recession in remarkable fashion, recording its highest-ever attendances – of 817,000 – for its productions at the South Bank during the last financial year, which ended on 30 March 2009. Those figures, published today in the NT’s 2008-9 Annual Report, equate to an incredible 93% capacity, a 6% leap from the 87% and 730,000 paid attendances in 2007-8.
Capacity-wise, the 93% capacity is just shy of the NT’s all-time annual high of 94% recorded in 2004-5 (the double-whammy year of The History Boys and His Dark Materials), though in fact attendances are now markedly higher due to last year’s introduction of Sunday matinees, making the UK’s flagship theatre a seven-day-a-week, year-round operation.
The initial four-month pilot of Sunday performances, which ran from September 2008 to January 2009, was an unequivocal success, with even an more staggering capacity rate of 99% - with 34% of Sunday attendees first-time bookers at the National.
At a press briefing this afternoon to launch the Annual Report (See Today’s Other News for future programming revelations), Hytner explained the NT’s box office success by saying: “I guess we’ve put on stuff that people really want to see ... We’ve got pretty nifty at knowing what to schedule when.”
NT Live & the Master Plan
Another major milestone in 2008-9 was the launch of NT Live, in which four productions – starting with Hytner’s production of Phedre starring Helen Mirren – are being broadcast by satellite to 280 cinemas worldwide. The National is the first theatre in the world to do this globally and, Hytner said, “its appeal exceeded our expectations”.
Phedre’s inaugural broadcast in June was seen by 50,000 people (30,000 of them in the UK). It cost £175,000 against revenues of £160,000 and, if future broadcasts (there are three more planned in the pilot phase) also essentially cover costs, the practice will continue. In the Annual Report’s introduction, Hytner wrote that, with the help of high-definition video and satellite technologies: “I am confident that we have pioneered a new genre: not quite live theatre, certainly not cinema, but an exciting approximation of the real thing whose potential reach is limitless.”
The high box office sales, growth in fundraising to £6.2 million, despite recessionary belt-tightening amongst some corporate sponsors, and strong catering results means that the NT increased its annual turnover to £55 million (£49 million in 2007-8) and achieved a surplus of £456,000 on unrestricted funds, which means that “significant amounts” are being earmarked for the Master Plan of exterior building works.
The estimated £50 million series of upgrades, as detailed at last year’s Annual Report press briefing (See News, 17 Sep 2008), include: a new education centre and an improved, shared Cottesloe foyer, better connections with the river, and better usage of vacant land at the rear and sides of the building. NT executive director Nick Starr said that design plans, from architects Haworth Tompkins, will be published in six months’ time, though no building deadlines are being set as projects can happen piecemeal, as and when funds are secured.
Facts & figures
The National’s 2008-9 Annual Report shows that attendances across the financial year, ending on 30 March 2009, witnessed a major increase on last year, with 817,000 paid attendances taking houses on the South Bank to 93% of capacity - compared to 87% and 730,000 paid attendances in 2007-8, 85% in 2006-7, 84% in 2005-6 and the all-time high of 94% in 2004-5.
Last year’s biggest-earning production, the multi award-winning adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, maintained its position – and 99% capacity - for a second year, taking another £2.7 million at the box office (on top of £2.3 million last year) and transferring to the West End, where it is fully and solely capitalised by the NT alone.
During the 2008-9 financial year, the National mounted 25 productions (17 of them new), had three productions (The Year of Magical Thinking, Waves and Gethsemane) touring the UK for 21 weeks plus international dates (for The Year of Magical Thinking, Waves and Happy Days) transferred War Horse to the West End.
Other key developments during the financial year included: a 20% savings on energy costs (a benchmark set in 2006 and stretched to 25% at the end of 2009); the relaunch of NT Education as NT Discover, catering for any age or background; the launch season of outdoor space The Deck, recouping almost half of its initial outlay; and a digitally enhanced revamp of the NT website.
Summarising what a strong position the National is in at the end of the last financial year, Hytner wrote in the Annual Report: “We are now open seven days a week, we are available all over the country and in much of the rest of the world, and we are embarking on an ambitious and exciting programme which will transform the National’s exterior ... We have rarely been in higher spirits.”
The Annual Report is available to download from the National Theatre website.