UK Touring Theatre in Audience Decline

An empty space: The future of Theatre?

By Anne Mackie

West End theatre has experienced a record breaking year in 2010 according to theatre producer Colin Ingram. Regrettably the same box office breaking statistics do not parallel the success of touring productions across the UK.

In a report produced by Ingram it was publicised that touring theatre is in decline due to high ticket pricing across the UK. Ingram said:

“Only popular musicals are touring the UK due to the simple fact that they are easier to fund. Fewer people are going to the theatre because there is the cheaper and frankly modern option of reality television and 3D cinema. Theatre is valued as too traditional in society today”.

A survey across major UK theatrical venues revealed 57 per cent of the population would rather watch reality television including The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing than attend a theatrical production.

With ticket prices averaging £42, the cheapest peaking at £32, the BBC and ITV are undeniably winning television ratings. In 2009, the ITV’s X-Factor audience peaked at 20 million – 62% of the television audience.

Regular theatre-goer, Jonny Farley expressed his concerns regarding the rising price of theatre tickets:

“There should be a better pricing system with more advantageous offers. I’m seeing fewer shows as a result of the current box office prices”.

The average theatre goer has risen from 25 to 43 years of age. As a result, producers are placing less emphasis in new innovative theatre writing. ‘Safety net’ shows including the Rat Pack concept, appealing to an older audience are persistently regurgitated. Investor of Rat Pack show ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’, David Warnock explained their consistent popularity:

“These shows are churned out time after time because they work. Audiences want to relive Frank Sinatra’s song. They bring in more money than your average new musical for the simple fact that they are popularly reliable”.

Theatre productions on all levels face considerable competition from both rivalling theatre groups, and large scale television companies. Audiences are left to debate a Saturday night on the sofa or in the stalls unless a significant reduction in ticket pricing is met.