By Elizabeth Anderson Wednesday, 07 March 2012

Julian Bird: Olympics will boost West End theatre

Andrew Lloyd Webber may have predicted a 'theatre bloodbath' during the 2012 Olympics, but the Society of London Theatre chief executive Julian Bird is more optimistic.

The improved transport links and influx of extra visitors will be a ‘great opportunity for London theatre’, Bird told MT at an event organised by Transport for London and London 2012 where businesses discussed how they were preparing for the Games.

Andrew Lloyd Webber warned at the end of last year that ‘nobody’s going to go to the theatre at all’ and predicted that most of the theatres will shut. But Bird said today he’s so confident about the opportunity provided by the Games that theatres wouldn’t even need to cut the price of tickets.

The Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which represents producers, theatre owners and managers in central London, has been on an advertising push over the past few months. In January it launched a new campaign to promote shows and special offers, hoping to cash in on the extra visitors to the capital during the Olympics, which some predict could be hundreds of thousands.

TfL will provide an extra 200 buses during the Games, and Tube closing times are being extended by an hour. Nevertheless, some within the leisure and retail sectors are concerned about how easily people will be able to travel around the capital to shops and attractions.

But the consensus seems to be that the Games will overall provide a boost. Research by retail analysts Springboard suggests sales will increase by 3.5% in West End shops and the Olympics will give them an extra £16.6m in revenue. SOLT confirmed that the majority of London theatres are staying open, and advances for the summer are ‘looking buoyant’.

Of more concern to Julian Bird is the level of tax on people who invest in the theatre: ‘We’re continuing to lobby the government for tax breaks for theatre investors, like the breaks offered to people who invest in films’, he said. Theatre producers are calling for better tax incentives for theatre investment in the UK, similar to the relief offered in the US.

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