‘Tis the season… For a constant stream of new show announcements! Over recent weeks it definitely feels like we’re being bombarded with information about what’s coming up both in London and elsewhere in the country, as theatres announce their programming for winter and spring one after another. Add into this the hotly anticipated Broadway transfers to several West End theatres during the course of 2019, as well as a few extensions to existing runs, and there is almost too much to keep track of. Let alone actually afford!
But I’m not complaining at the incredible range of shows that will be springing up over the next few months (even if I am still trying to work out why there’s a cluster of Arthur Millers); it’s always great to have a lot of choice, and theatres refreshing their schedule regularly definitely keeps me interested.
What I would like, however, is for theatres to think a bit more about their timing. If they’d like us to buy their tickets, it would be very helpful if they gave us a bit of warning! If you’re on a tight budget (which a good proportion of people are) then you need time to save up and also plan your expenditure a bit, unless you are prepared to sacrifice doing things now to ensure that you have something coming up in a few months’ time – though invariably something else would then pop up out of nowhere and throw things out of joint again.
Take something like the Hamilton and Harry Potter extensions. Yes, for a while you can safely assume that those shows will be continuing so it’s there in the back of your mind that an announcement could be imminent – but you never quite know when it will come. If it’s at that point in the month where you really can’t spend any more, then you are absolutely screwed! This is exactly what happened for me. Hamilton’s extension past December was announced at the beginning of June and tickets went on sale a few days later – but by that point all of my spending had to be strictly regulated because I was still saving up for my stint in Edinburgh, and I couldn’t justify flinging away a minimum of 40 quid on something that’s over half a year away when I didn’t know how much money I might need in a couple of months’ time.
The most recent example is the Young Vic’s next season: announced the middle of last week, tickets have gone on general sale today. It’s perhaps not quite as urgent as trying to get hold of a Hamilton ticket (I’m sure there will be something reasonably priced still there when I next have funds), but it’s still not ideal. Could more places not do what The Book of Mormon have done today? That is, announce an imminent run and allow people to sign up to receive priority booking information. Dear Evan Hansen has also done this in advance of next year’s run at the Noël Coward Theatre.
Something else that I really wish would be a regular thing is for some tickets to go on sale prior to any casting announcements. Whilst I completely understand fans wanting to see their idols onstage, theatres should consider that some people have some shows that they want to see, no matter who’s involved. Take Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, for example. I’ve become quite a fan of Tom Stoppard’s work over recent years, and have loved Shakespeare for even longer, so I was desperate to see the Old Vic’s production a couple of years ago – but of course when they announced that Daniel Radcliffe was starring in it, I knew I had no hope of securing a seat (let alone a half decent & good value one) against the full force of the Potterheads. Had the Old Vic held off the casting announcement for a week, and put a selection of tickets on sale early, I wouldn’t have been denied this opportunity.
The National especially needs to have a think about this. With three separate venues running extensive programmes throughout the year, the demand regularly gets too much for its systems – not least when the Imelda Staunton-led Follies went on sale a couple of years ago… With some productions it’s clear that there will be incredible demand, so why not put them on sale separately? Either stagger the sale dates per venue, or identify those that will be most sought after and set them apart.
And even when things are thought out and organised with decent notice (for example, the Old Vic’s PwC £10 preview tickets go on sale on the Monday five weeks before the first performance), technology can still scupper you. Many websites now use something called Queue-it to try and regulate traffic, however I’ve yet to find one that is completely in sync with the box office website – and the correct time. What Queue-it does is put you in a random place in the queue if you click through prior to the time tickets are due to go on sale, which is fine and gives the best chance of fairness across the board – however, if tickets go on sale at midday and you click through on the dot of 12, Queue-it will still recognise you as being too early and you could end up way down in the queue through no fault of your own.
What do you think? Are there still improvements that can be made, or are things as good as they can get?