The West End is continuing to bounce back after the terrorist attacks of 7 July, according to Rosemary Squire, the newly elected president of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and co-founder and executive director of the Ambassador Theatre Group Ltd, who was a guest speaker at yesterday’s launch party for the Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.

In a highly personal speech, Squire, who was due to be inaugurated as SOLT president on 7 July, recalled how, she became caught up in transport panic that Thursday morning. “I had the saddest day. Of course, I wasn’t inaugurated, we had to cancel the meeting and I presided over the very first closure that there’s ever been I think since the war of all London theatre.”

On the bright side, recovery from the devastating blow the bombings had on theatre is under way. “We have bounced back from the 7th of July,” said Squire. “Earlier in the year, we’d been heading towards an absolutely record-breaking year in West End theatre - there had been five major musicals opened in the previous few months. I’m pleased to say, here we are at the end of November, and we remain over four percent up on ticket sales year on year, which I think, under the circumstances, is an extraordinary recognition of the diversity and of the quality and the quantity (of theatre available). More people come to London theatre than anywhere else in the world, we remain world leaders.”

Squire also endorsed the audience-led voting of the Theatregoers’ Choice Awards: “One of the greatest things is, this awards ceremony is actually judged by avid theatregoers, people who come and see many productions. They are our loyal audience, we all depend on them.”

The second guest speaker at yesterday’s launch presentation was David Haig (pictured), who took to the podium on behalf of this year’s adopted charity, Sophie's Silver Lining Fund, just moments after learning that he’d been nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for originating the role of Mr Banks in Mary Poppins.

The charity was set up in honour of Haig’s second cousin, Sophie Large, who was killed in a car accident in February 1998, aged 19. Her family decided to set up a Memorial Fund to help needy young artists with the considerable expenses of their training in acting or singing. Sophie herself had begun to encounter the financial barriers faced when choosing to train in these specialties. Dame Judi Dench is the Fund's chief patron. Other patrons include Haig and Jenny Agutter, who also attended yesterday’s event, held in aid of the charity.

The awards presentation finished with a happy birthday toast to three theatrical legends – playwright Harold Pinter, director Sir Peter Hall and American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim – all of whom turned 75 this year. In addition to leading industry figures, the stage stars in attendance included: Alan Rickman, Jane Krakowski, Jenna Russell, Suranne Jones, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Daldry, Sheila Hancock, Haydn Gwynne, Tim Healy, Anthony Head, Gary Kemp, David Soul, Lesley Manville, John Gordon Sinclair, Claire Price, Rosemary Ashe, Amanda Drew, Peter Wight, Charlotte Emmerson, Una Stubbs, Jefferson Mays, Martyn Ellis, Rolf Saxon, Clint Dyer, Saskia Reeve, Jenny Agutter, Michelle Ryan, Toby Young, Rhashan Stone, Olivia Williams, Charlotte Randle, Daniel Kramer, Earl Carpenter, Clint Dyer, Joseph Millson, Rebecca Johnson, Giles Terera, Jason Pennycooke, Laura Wade, Roger Lloyd Pack, Robert Delamere, Sara Crowe, Scarlet Strallen, Sean Foley, Tamara Harvey, Peter Quilter, Lucy Bailey, Ian Gelder, Alistair Petrie, Richard Baron, Melly Still, Amelia Bullmore, Packy Lee, Andrea Riseborough, Mike Bradwell, David Lan, Sally Ann Triplett and Charles Aitken.

- by Terri Paddock

  • For photos from the awards launch party, click here
  • For the full shortlists & further analysis, click here
  • For the complete texts of Rosemary Squire & David Haig’s speeches, click here
  • For your chance to vote in this year’s awards, click here