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New work 'overtakes revivals' on British stages, says report

A major survey of over 250 UK venues reveals that new work is now in the majority

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Revivals such as The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios are now less common than new work
© Johan Persson

According to major new research into British theatre attendance, new work has overtaken revivals for the first time since records were kept.

Described as "the most comprehensive survey of theatre repertoire ever undertaken", the Arts Council-funded research was carried out by the British Theatre Consortium in conjunction with UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

It found that in 2013 new work constituted 59 percent of all productions, 63 percent of all seats sold, 64 percent of all performances and 66 percent of box office income.

The report adds: "In other words, using all four measures - shows, performances, attendances and money - new work now dominates the repertoire. It's substantially over half the work programmed and generates almost two-thirds of theatre income."

This is in stark contrast to the situation previously. Between 1970 and 1985 new work comprised just 12% of productions in English theatre.

The research was led by a mix of playwrights and academics - David Brownlee, David Edgar, Clare Ollerhead and Dan Rebellato - based on data from 273 theatres in the UK.

New work was defined as including adaptations and translations, but not devised work, which made up 21 percent of new 'straight theatre' productions.

Despite the numerical decline, the audience for revivals "remains healthy", the report adds. Classical drama, including Shakespeare, achieved 77 percent capacity, with postwar drama achieving a robust 64 percent average.

The interim report concludes: "Despite the economic downturn in 2008, while other industries have seen a decline, both UK Theatre and SOLT report that audience numbers and levels of income at their member venues have proved remarkably resilient."

The full report will be published next month.