It’s not entirely doom and gloom economically. Figures, released today by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), show that Theatreland has managed to beat – just - its own box office records again in 2008, with attendances and ticket revenues slightly up on the previous “miracle” year’s record-breaking figures.

The figures - which are compiled from the 52 major theatres in central London, primarily commercial but also including grant-aided flagships such as the National, Royal Court, Almeida and Donmar Warehouse – show a total of 13,807,286 trips were made to see a London show in 2008 (up from 13,630,810 in 2007). The 1% increase of 176,476 compares modestly with the increase of nearly 1.3 million between 2006 and 2007.

Total ticket revenue in 2008 also rose some, creeping to £480,563,674 (up from £469,729,135 in 2007 after a major jump from £400,802,809 in 2006). Musicals ended 1% up year-on-year, while plays were 1% down, and dance, opera and other entertainments collectively rose by 5%.

After a strong start to the year, carrying over from 2007 “annus mirabilis”, Theatreland suffered in line with the general economic downturn with lower demand in the autumn. A strong Christmas period – not least bookings for Cameron Mackintosh’s hit production of Oliver!, which opened earlier this month already carrying a record-breaking £15 million advance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane box office – pushed up the year-end results.

Commenting on the results today, SOLT chief executive Richard Pulford said: “These figures are good news for the performing arts, and for the UK economy. Theatregoers are out there spending money not just at our box offices, but in hotels, restaurants and shops in the capital.”

Going forward, as the wider UK economy, now officially in recession, worsens, “2009 will undoubtedly be tough, but we start the year with the theatre capital of the world in good health”.

SOLT president Nica Burns added: “Behind these figures are many very talented hard-working people putting on and selling world-class shows that people actually want to see. There’s a lot of economic doom and gloom out there, but it would seem people still want to be entertained and stimulated in numbers.”

- by Terri Paddock