Theatre producers are predicting a wave of investment in British shows, similar to the film and TV boom that brought Game of Thrones to the UK, as new government subsidies come into force.
Investors who have previously shied away from risky ventures such as plays are showing serious interest, in the belief that government tax credits can do for live performance what they have done for film, television and video games.
From this week tax credits, which convinced producers of blockbusters such as Game of Thrones to do their filming in Britain, are being extended to theatres. Relief on preproduction costs - from costumes to director's fees and accommodation - will offer a crucial incentive for projects that have a less obvious commercial appeal.
The subsidy pays up to 20% of total preproduction costs, which the industry hopes will tempt investors towards riskier productions.
The Scottsboro Boys, a critically acclaimed musical that is transferring from the Young Vic to the West End, is a high-profile beneficiary. The cost of bringing it to the Garrick theatre in central London is about pounds 1.2m, including marketing. The potential rebate is up to pounds 120,000.
Neil Adleman, a partner at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, which helped lobby for the credit, said: "Theatre producers will now operate on a level playing
field with other sectors . . . such as film, high-end television and computer games, in a world where many sources of finance are common across these industries."
London box-office takings set a record last year as revenues rose 11% to pounds 585m. However, the revenues were driven by a few large shows - musicals such as The Book of Mormon, or star-driven plays such as The Audience, with Dame Helen Mirren.
The Scottsboro Boys is based on a true story - nine black boys in Alabama in 1931 falsely convicted of rape. It is supported by about 30 investors, including a judge, some of whom were induced to do so by the tax credits.
Its Tony award-winning producer, Catherine Schreiber, is a leading player in US theatre and, with the lure of the relief, is developing more UK projects. She told the Guardian she knows of several wealthy individuals looking to invest in British theatre who had previously been deterred by VAT on ticket sales.
"Many producers . . . said before that they don't want to do shows in London because of how much is taken out," she said. "This [relief] will help balance that."
Jon Bath, of Fiery Angel, a theatrical production company behind the award-winning 39 Steps and general manager of The Scottsboro Boys, said that before the tax credit, proposing theatre investment to potential investors made them "laugh you out of the room half the time".
Jill Manson, a US garden designer based in Britain, said she had previously raised funds for subsidised theatre and that the subsidy would inspire her to invest in stagings: "It would give you a better chance for some profit."
Kyle Scatliffe (centre) in The Scottsboro Boys, which is taking advantage of tax credits to transfer to the West End Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian