LONDON’S theatres suffered at the box office in 2011, but you wouldn’t know it from the spin put on official ticket sales figures, released today.

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“We are extremely proud that our theatres have yet again gone on to achieve another record-breaking year of sales,” said Mark Rubinstein of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

Rubinstein is technically correct, in that ticket revenue from the 52 theatres under SOLT’s umbrella increased by 3.1% to £528 million. But, when you account for inflation of nearly 4.8%, ticket revenue is actually down by 1.7%.

Luckily for SOLT, headline writers followed Rubinstein’s lead.

“West End revenues hit another all-time high,” said The Stage. “West End logs record sales,” echoed Variety, while the Guardian trumpeted the good news about “West end theatres cheered by rise in revenues”.

It’s fair to say that SOLT’s sales figures are no disaster in an economic slump, but those headlines are enough to creep out any statistician.

The glass half-full/half-empty debate also applies to future revenues, especially surrounding the effects of the Olympics.

“We can confirm buoyant box office advances for 2012, a year in which we look forward to welcoming millions more national and international visitors through our theatre doors,” said Rubinstein.

But others believe the 2012 Games will put a serious dent into theatre attendances.

“I know certain shows already that are not going to be performing on major nights, the opening ceremony and maybe other climactic nights,” said leading producer Cameron Macintosh.

“It isn’t going to be easy.”

Lord Lloyd Webber agrees.

“For the period of the summer, what we call the normal West End tourist audience is running at about 10 per cent its normal level,” he said.

“Partly [that’s] because people can’t get into hotels, partly because the hotels are so expensive because they’ve all put their prices up.”

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Hannah Cohen