Recouping UK Theatre’s Losses

A way back?


The theatre sector makes a crucial contribution to the UK economy. For every £1,000 of turnover generated by the theatre ecosystem in the United Kingdom, there is a positive effect of £1,909 turnover in the rest of the economy, both within the theatre sector value chain and in other industries such as tourism. However, in many respects, post covid and in the current economic climate, the industry is struggling and looking for ways to claw back revenues.

We decided to speak with venue leaders and producers throughout the UK, to identify what they are experiencing and how they are fighting back.


We’ll keep this one brief as it’s a well-known fact that the pandemic had a huge impact on the sector which many are still feeling, today. Economic losses of the sector in 2020 equalled 77% of the turnover (£1.495 billion) in comparison to 2019’s as a result of COVID-19.  A number of venue leaders told us they have mostly bounced back, but nearly all stated the economic climate means they are facing a tranche of further factors which are making it even harder to sustain a viable business.


Since August 2020, the Culture Recovery Fund has distributed £1.57bn to around 5,000 organisations and sites across the UK. As we reported during the pandemic, certain venues weren’t eligible for funds, but those which were received a vital lifeline. Many have now informed us these have long since dried up and they are really starting to feel the crunch, and facing significant shortfalls again, due to the economic climate. In many ways the answer they keep coming back with is “we need to think smarter, and make money go further” but many had already been doing that before costs skyrocketed, so what now?


The cost-of-living crisis has left consumers facing huge food and energy bills, high taxes, and dwindling savings. Both movement and trade restrictions since Brexit, have also contributed towards a world where consumers have to think twice about what they spend money on. Almost every venue leader we spoke with said they have lost specific audience demographics, which simply haven’t returned, so they are trying to find new ways of attracting those audiences, whilst growing those who have returned, and attracting new ones.

Spiralling production costs and programming.

Producing houses and producers themselves are reporting productions can now cost two-to-three times the amount to stage and tour, compared to just four years ago. Nimax’s Nica Burns stated, “the average price of a set has risen 50%, along with electricity, wage rises,” and more. Producers are having to do more with less, clawing back whatever they can, whilst trying to ensure that none of it is visible on stage to their audiences. Regional houses also have a commitment to building new audiences and servicing local ones, often through niche programming. It’s a hugely important area for venues, but also one which typically bring with it lower ticket prices and, in the short-to-medium term, lower revenue.

Structural deterioration

Almost everyone has told us that the need to redirect funds to simply keep their venues afloat and – where possible – employees in post, has led to buildings which have been neglected and are now desperately in need of renovation. Funds are needed in the here and now, whilst capital projects are on the horizon, with a need for experienced team members who can help win funding from ever more cautious funding bodies.

So where is the money going to come from?

Raising ticket prices

An obvious fix, but one which risks further cannibalising audience numbers. It’s been well documented that ticket prices have increased significantly. The Stage reported their annual ticketing survey and “found that the average most expensive ticket for plays in the West End has risen by 50% since 2023” with a YoY rise of 9.3%, whilst top price tickets in general rose by 0.4% last year, compared to a 20% surge post-pandemic, in 2022. Some venues are choosing to split the difference, raising some of their inventory considerably and lowering prices elsewhere in an effort to remain accessible, whilst still growing revenues. Others are being more selective with their programming, but that of course relies on product being available to them in the first place and, as available funds to mount them.

Better marketing

A key part of audience growth is of course, marketing. Leaders are looking at ways of improving this, either by using better marketing companies “which come at a cost” or through hiring stronger on-site leadership. Marketing is often the first department to go, or the first supplier to be replaced with a cheaper one, when funds are pressed. However this is often a false economy. A great marketeer who understands your audience demographics and product and can feed into your business plan from both an audience point of view and the businesses, can make the difference of a 65% sold house, and a 90% sold one. Marketing platforms and media are changing all the time, as are socioeconomic circumstances, and audience’s tastes. The very best marketeers will be all over this and much more, but leaders are finding it difficult finding or affording truly great ones. They are certainly out there. We’ve met them!

More funding

Some venues we spoke with, have recently or are looking to, strengthen their fundraising and sponsorship teams. There are two approaches we are seeing: The first is looking at who is already in the business, and whether they can be trained quickly enough in more effective approaches and methodologies. The second is hiring funding and philanthropy specialists. These are highly skilled individuals who can come from theatre backgrounds, or can be found in adjacent industries. We’ve found the latter to be particularly fruitful in the past and is just one of the many reasons we work across a number of different industries.

A new government

We couldn’t close without briefly looking at the country’s leadership. Many leaders we spoke with have firmly pointed the finger at 14 years of the Conservative Party leading the country. But that has just changed, so let’s hope.

Whatever the answer for theatres and venues is, we have some of the best venue leaders in the world, in post. We can say that with some degree of confidence, because we’ve been fortunate enough to put many in post, and meet and interview many hundreds over the years. These are the people who, together with the hundreds of thousands working in the theatre ecosystem, government, charitable bodies, creatives and theatregoers, will secure theatre’s future, and in doing so, further fuel our incredible creative industry, and the country’s economy.

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Martin Tripp Associates is a specialist executive search consultancy. We work globally across the media, information, technology, video games and entertainment sectors, and with some of the world’s biggest brands on communications, digitalmarketing and technology roles. Feel free to contact us to discuss.