The UK officially came out of recession yesterday. And today the West End has followed suit with its own set of encouraging results, the headline one being that annual box office receipts have passed the half a billion pound mark for the first time ever.

Results for 2009, released today by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), show that Theatreland has, despite the overall economic gloom over the past year, remained highly resilient, with record numbers of theatregoers attending plays, musicals, opera and dance in the capital.

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 14,257,922 trips were made to see a London show in 2009. That’s up 5.5% from the 13,807,286 trips in 2008 (See News, 26 Jan 2009), and marks the first time that attendances have passed the 14 million mark.

Total ticket revenue in 2009 rose to £504,765,690, up 7.6% from the £480,563,674 taken at box offices in 2008 (£469,729,135 in 2007 and £400,802,809 in 2006). It’s the seventh consecutive year that new attendance and record revenues have been set.

In the year of hits like Enron and Jerusalem, the West End transfer of War Horse, the Ian McKellen-Patrick Stewart Waiting for Godot and the conclusion of the Donmar West End season, plays in particularly fared well in 2009, up an incredible 26% on 2008, while opera, dance and entertainment shows were collectively up 7%, and – unusually - musicals were down year-on-year by 2%, although they rallied by the end of 2009 as new productions were announced.

Commenting on today’s results, SOLT president and West End theatre producer and owner Nica Burns 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.”

The theatre spend also represents more than £75 million in VAT receipts for the government, while, according to the SOLT press release, “the additional spend by theatregoers on things such as transport, restaurants and hotels will have provided vital stimulus for the London economy”. The results, and particularly the size of the increases, “achieved against a backdrop of economic recession, represent a stunning performance by the sector”.