London theaters hope to capitalize on 2012 Olympics tourism London theaters hope to capitalize on 2012 Olympics tourism
London’s West End is betting that attendees of next summer’s Olympic Games will be theatergoers as well. The Society of London Theatre (SOLT), an... London theaters hope to capitalize on 2012 Olympics tourism

London’s West End is betting that attendees of next summer’s Olympic Games will be theatergoers as well.

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT), an association of London-area theater owners and producers, has announced that a number of its shows will extend bookings into the period of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, roughly one year from now.

SOLT aims to boost ticket sales by enabling 2012 Olympics attendees to make theater a part of their current trip planning, rather than counting on fans to make spur-of-the-moment decisions to take in a show during the Games. With published reports finding that April’s royal wedding coincided with a drop in West End ticket sales, theater owners and producers are likely wary of being caught unprepared again.

More than half of SOLT’s productions will offer ticket sales up to 15 months in advance to cover the period of the 2012 Summer Olympics, which will run from July 27 to August 12 next year. Among those productions extending their runs are the stage adaptation of “Billy Elliot” and the award-winning “War Horse,” as well as fan favorites “Wicked,” “Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” the longest-running play of all time, is also included in the list, as are newer musicals “Shrek the Musical” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Wizard of Oz,” and yet-to-open shows “Rock of Ages” and “Matilda the Musical.”

In response to SOLT’s decision, London mayor Boris Johnson said in a press statement: “My message to the good folks around the world is ‘Come to London in 2012 for a year like no other!’ We will be taking centre stage and whether you are coming for the Games or any other time during the year, surely no visit to our magnificent city will be complete without enjoying the spectacular entertainment London theatre has to offer.”

Despite April’s blip, the second quarter of this year has been profitable for London’s theaters, with revenue up 2 percent over the same quarter last year. Plays drove this surge, up 13 percent quarter over quarter, with musicals dropping by 2 percent. Productions with particularly good financial returns included Kevin Spacey in “Richard III” at the Old Vic and a sold-out “Much Ado about Nothing” at Wyndham’s Theatre. Also boosting numbers this quarter was Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein,” with Jonny Lee Miller in the title role.

“The results are really encouraging,” SOLT’s chief executive Julian Bird told UK’s The Stage. “Anecdotally, talking to other businesses, tourism is quite strong in London at the moment, but also there has been a strong roster of shows. Plays have done extraordinarily well, helped by some very strong offerings. We are optimistic — there’s a very healthy raft of shows being announced across the autumn and into the winter.”

This quarter’s numbers were a relief to London’s theater owners, who saw sales decline by 6 percent and audiences by 10 percent in the first quarter of 2011. This has left the numbers still lagging behind 2010’s figures by 1.7 percent, at a total of £250.5 million to date. However, current advance sales are promising, and up over both 2010’s and 2009’s numbers.