As theatre tickets sales go up, fears over panto Christmas bookings play catch-up

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

Image source, Getty Images

The Christmas tickets help to pay for shows that are not available at the theatre during other seasons

Theatres all over Britain are reviving pantomime season with the help of horse costumes, beanstalks and stunning dame dresses. Yes, they are.

New research shows that many are still hesitant to watch live broadcasts, despite the fact that we have not yet recovered from the pandemic.

According to the Audience Agency, as the holiday season approached, ticket sales for theatres fell by one-third compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Theatres need Christmas shows to make a profit and reach new audiences.

Last year’s productions were mostly cancelled, or cut short. But this Christmas venue can host performances at any capacity.

The most recent week available, 25 October was the most recent week that Audience Members bought 473 807 tickets.

There was also a decline of 34% in sales during the time period before the pandemic.

The Audience Agency oversees the sales of more than 340 English venues.

October was a good month for ticket buying. Some producers also reported that there has been an increase in sales this month.

Several theatres in the West End, not included in this survey, reported having full houses.

Anne Torreggiani, chief executive of Audience Agency, stated that the drop in attendance was more problematic for smaller venues and organizations located outside big cities.

According to her, “The festive season (panto and traditional festive offerings) may drop by 30-40% in worst cases. It is clear that this has serious consequences for many businesses who expect to spend large sums on these Christmas productions.

“The consequences could be quite drastic. Many places are fortunate to have received the money they needed from the government. But this may be an extremely devastating blow.

Further research was done in October. 23% said that they would go to a panto every year, but 17% said this year’s chances were eight-out of ten.

The likelihood of older people attending is lower than that of 16-24-year-olds.

According to The Stage, several schools in Scotland have stopped running panto tours this year.

Trevor MacFarlane was the Director of Culture Commons. “This could spell trouble in venues throughout the country that rely on packed-out panto productions to generate up to 25% of the annual box office revenues.

“This income subsists the remaining year’s programme, important community outreach, and educational activities.

Many factors are at work here. 2019 saw a decline in school and group bookings. Grandparents and other significant elders may be reluctant to join younger friends and families into the theatre.

“In areas outside London, especially those that are not metropolitan areas, concerns about returning to cultural activities in person seem to be more prominent.”

He added that the Centre for Cultural Value (which conducted the research along with the Audience Agency and Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre) will “continue monitor the situation and share any emerging findings to the government”.

“Catching up nicely”

Emily Wood is co-director at Evolution Productions. The company has 11 pantomimes in the UK. She said that box office revenues had experienced a “slow start”, but now are experiencing a strong surge.

According to her, she stated that “we’ve noticed a completely different sales pattern than usual.” But, in fact, the numbers are improving.

“Certainly, these last few weeks have been stronger than the equivalent weeks two-years ago because there’s more to buy. Things are improving and we’re catching up.

A separate research was published this month that found 32% of former theatre audiences were not still planning on returning to the venues.

Many stated that they avoid crowd interactions or are concerned about other people not following Covid safety guidelines.

Andrew Lloyd Webber said Tuesday on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, that the issue of low attendance in theatres wearing masks was “a concern” and that he wants to make it compulsory at all six of them.

The New Year is a testing year

However, he stated that the West End would benefit if they did so all together. He said, “At this moment, we don’t believe that will across my theatres.” It’s up the producers.

It’s best that it is done as an entity by the West End at this time. Yes, it would be something that I’d like to introduce, but I’m not convinced it’s needed at the moment.

Lord Lloyd Webber said that West End shows were performing well with young audiences. He stated that the New Year will be the “testing point” for the West End.

Society of London Theatre represents the West End and said that many of its members see audience numbers in excess of pre-pandemic levels.

Lord Lloyd Webber requires that audience members show proof of natural immunity or negative testing, even though it is not a legally required requirement in England.

Others theatre owners may also request Covid passports such as the Ambassadors Theatre Group which operates 37 venues in the UK and the Storyhouse of Chester.

Covid passes, which are required to enter theaters in Wales, will become mandatory in Northern Ireland starting next week. They are not required by the Scottish government.


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