Money makes the world go around

Shaftesbury Avenue

Over the past few months I’ve become increasingly incensed at the cost of visiting the theatre now. True, for some it’s an infrequent treat so you might be more willing to splash out, but for many it’s their favourite form of leisure activity and will regularly see shows several times a week. If you want to get a decent seat you either need to sell an organ, know the right people or get up at all hours to queue for day seats. And given that most box offices don’t open until 10am (or even 10.30am), if the show is popular this can exclude people who have to work. It also isn’t helpful for those who are coming from out of town but are also on a budget.

Helpfully, some theatres offer a discount for customers under a certain age – but, more often than not, it’s for under 25s. As London is more expensive than anywhere else in the country it should really be for under 30s (like at the wonderful Hampstead Theatre). Membership holders (for example with ATG) often get a range of deals throughout the year (too many, in my opinion), but you have to stump up the cash to become a member in the first place.

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To put our current prices into context, I’ve had a look at ticket costs over the ages:

  • Elizabethan (at places like the Globe, or indoors at Blackfriars) – 1p for groundlings, 2p for seats in the lower gallery (an extra penny got you a cushion); indoor theatre tickets started at 6p. At this time in history, bread cost 1p and there were 240 pennies to the pound.
  • Victorian – after Covent Garden Theatre (now the Royal Opera House) burned down, prices were revised. It went from 6 to 7 shillings for boxes, and 3s 6d to 4 shillings for the pit & third tier. Incidentally, this led to the 1809 price riots
  • 20th century – around 1946 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, stalls cost 16s 6d, grand circle 15s 6d & 12 shillings, upper circle 8s 6d & 7 shillings, pit stalls 7s 6d, balcony (unreserved seating) 3s 3d, and private boxes at £1.17.0-£7.0.0.

Back to the present day, with a couple of examples.

(l-r) Danny Horn, Oliver Hoare, Damien Walsh, Tom Whitelock in Sunny Afternoon. Credit - Kevin Cummins.jpg
Danny Horn, Oliver Hoare, Damien Walsh and Tom Whitelock in Sunny Afternoon
Photo credit: Kevin Cummins

I’ve been going to Sunny Afternoon long enough to see the evolution of the Pinter’s prices: from over the top to the frankly ridiculous. Top price & premium seats in late 2014 were £65 & £89.50 – they now stand at £69.50 & £89.50 Monday-Friday, and £72.50, £92.50 & £125 on Saturdays. I think we can agree that it’s gone way too far. That’s why months like this are a godsend, putting the seats I love to sit in at a flat £19.66 (minus ATG’s annoying online booking fee).

But there’s one show’s prices that I’d really like to draw your attention to: Carol Harrison’s vanity project, All Or Nothing. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this is the musical about the Small Faces (confusingly containing several other artists for no good reason) that had a run at the Waterloo Vaults in spring this year, and is currently on a UK tour. It’s an Off West End show, so you expect Off West End prices – right? Wrong.

Small Faces 1 Phil Weedon
Joshua Dowen, Drew-Levi Huntsman, Mark Newnam and Josh Maddison in All Or Nothing
Photo credit: Phil Weedon

To start with, the programme was £5 – it’s slightly larger than A5 in dimension, but a lot thinner & of a lesser quality than most West End programmes, which sell for £4. The tickets started at £25, going up to £30 for reserved seats down at the front, as well as an all-inclusive package providing customers with a ticket, programme & drink. And then there was a booking fee too.

The tour prices seem a bit more reasonable, taking a few venues at random:

  • Palace Theatre, Southend – £21.50-£28.50 (£2.50 off for concessions) plus a £2 booking fee
  • Rose Theatre Kingston – £21-£26 plus a £2.50 booking fee
  • Manchester Opera House – £20-£32.50 plus a £4 booking fee
  • Cardiff New Theatre – £9-£25 plus a £2.95 booking fee (& 95p extra for postage)

It’s when you look at its forthcoming London residency, again at the Vaults, that you really wonder if they’re taking the proverbial…

Monday to Thursday, the tickets on offer are £30 (+ £3 fee), £50 including a drink & programme (+ £5 fee), with a limited number of pre-sale tickets for £25 (+ £2.50 fee). All unallocated. And when you get to Fridays & Saturdays, it’s £40 (+ £4 fee) or £50 including a drink & programme (+£5 fee). Again, unallocated. Though clearly these tickets haven’t been shifting, as Time Out recently ran a deal for £21 tickets – a far more acceptable price.

Small Faces 6 Phil Weedon
The cast of All Or Nothing
Photo credit: Phil Weedon

When you look at other Off West End shows, this seems to be All Or Nothing showing delusions of grandeur. After The Heat We Battle For The Heart, which ran at the Vaults Festival this year, sold tickets for £12. Scena Mundi’s Volpone at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre last October had tickets at £14, Beetles From The West at the Hope Theatre in Islington have tickets for £15, and Alligators downstairs at Hampstead Theatre costs £12. In comparison, Hampstead’s upstairs shows generally sell for £30-£35 (with concessions at £10 & £15).

Shows in Off West End venues should have lower running costs, so the ticket prices should reflect this – and make theatregoing more affordable. No wonder Brexit doesn’t seem to have affected London theatres’ profits, as they’re all charging the earth for tickets! It’s a contagion that must stop spreading if younger generations are to be introduced to the theatre & maintain their interest.

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