Costs of theatre tickets are going up – London isn’t quite at New York levels of crazy just yet, but there are so many seats that the average person simply can’t afford now. When a big percentage of the house is going for over £100 (even as much as £250 for some ‘premium’ options) then it’s clear that something’s wrong.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! There are plenty of ways out there to get yourself an affordable (and half decent) ticket. I’ve tested out a couple during this musicals week, and regularly make the most of the various options open to me.
Now that I’ve ditched the stupid Windows phone that I saddled myself with for far too long, I have access to TodayTix’s full range of money-saving options. This week I got my quick reflexes out to ensure I was second row at Come From Away, thanks to their limited supply of rush tickets – all you have to do is unlock the function and head to the app after 10am on the day of the performance. This is quite widely used now, so you don’t just have one or two shows to choose from. TodayTix also runs 24-hour flash sales, where a single show will offer (generally) £15 tickets all over the auditorium. They do other sales throughout the year, too, which are slightly longer lasting and offer seats in one of their ticket lotteries: simply enter before a set time (on the day of the show), and then 1-2 hours beforehand you’ll be notified if you have been successful or not. I have a woeful record with these, more often being chosen when a real winner fails to claim their ticket or doesn’t need it anymore. To that end, I only do the lotteries if I have a good backup in place or am not that bothered about having nothing to do when I don’t win.
New Year Sale
Previously known as ‘Get Into London Theatre’, this comes around (clearly) towards the end of the year and lasts into the early stages of the new one. A large range of shows take part, allowing you to book seats at £10/£20/£30 and save money in the process. I used this quite a bit at the height of my Sunny Afternoon phase during 2014/15, ending up with some brilliant seats at bargain prices. It’s always worth getting in early as popular shows go fast.
Some shows operate their own ticket lotteries, which allow you to apply in advance – and have the benefit of you knowing whether or not you’ve been successful prior to the performance date. I’ve previously been successful with School of Rock, though I couldn’t actually use it, but have so far had no luck with Tina or Hamilton. The latter I must have entered at least 150 times with no result (including this week) – you see what I mean about the odds being stacked against me?!
If in doubt, scrutinise the seating plans and auditorium photos. Some booking systems (e.g. the RSC, the NT) have the ‘view from the seat’ to give you an idea of what you’ll be able to see – often a seat marked as ‘restricted view’ isn’t all that bad, so you can pay a relative pittance and still get the most out of it. SeatPlan is a good, crowdsourced option for most West End theatres (and some regional ones) which can help you with a final decision, as patron height is also considered. For certain theatres that I frequent (such as the Old Vic and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) I’ve come to learn the best bargain seats and always make sure I book them…
The trusty day seat. I was going to do that today, but after a week of getting up early for work, and being out for a ridiculous number of consecutive days (stretching back into the previous week), I just couldn’t face it. For a Saturday, as more people are off work/school the ‘start’ times generally get earlier, as you compete to be there first – or at least early in the queue. I did this successfully for Company twice, as well as The Price, though all on weekdays so I didn’t need to rush quite so much. Often this will give you front row, or some of the best seats in the house, for around the £20-£25 mark. Most theatres will offer day seats, or have nice box office staff who may offer you a deal, though it’s best to check the Theatre Monkey website for a definitive list – this will also help to give you an idea of when you might need to arrive, as some people will provide helpful information that’s added to the site. I’ve only once been unsuccessful – and then I simply strolled round to another box office with a later opening time and picked up a day seat for an alternative show!
Some theatres offer concessions (e.g. for OAPs, the unwaged, students) and some have age-related schemes in place that allow younger theatregoers to get cheap and decently placed tickets. Hampstead Theatre runs The Downstairs Club for under 30s which allows you to buy £10/£15 tickets for the main house and £5 tickets for the Downstairs space, the Bridge Theatre has the Young Bridge scheme for those under 26 (as well as cheaper priority membership for under 35s), the Almeida offers discounts to patrons under 30, and the Royal Court gives cheap tickets to those who are 25 and under. This does at least mean you can book some shows in advance, so you’re not scrabbling around on the day – though it obviously comes with an expiry date.
This is only really an option if you’re physically able to do it, but does represent a great bargain option. The Globe’s groundling tickets for a fiver are probably the most famous of these, giving you a terrific view though leaving you open to the elements – and the SWP also offers £10 standing tickets, though I really don’t want to endorse them, as they are incredibly uncomfortable spots and afford you a view of about a third of the stage (if you’re lucky). The Young Vic and Donmar Warehouse also offer standing tickets, and I believe there are still a couple of West End options in Les Misérables and The Lion King.
There are some other great alternatives from various theatres. The Old Vic has a scheme with pWc, where the first five previews have a selection of seats available for £10, which are released five weeks before the beginning of the run; in recent times the good stalls & dress circle spots do seem to be dwindling, however, with the bulk appearing in the already cheap & restricted view spots of the slips & Lilian Baylis Circle. The Bush Theatre has a scheme called Count Me In, which is only a tenner and you could be seated anywhere in the auditorium – you find out when you collect your ticket. I did this for An Adventure and was given front row! There’s a similar thing in place at the Young Vic (Lucky Dip), also for £10, but they seat you just before the show starts. You may end up standing though, so only choose this if you’re prepared to potentially do that. The National Theatre and the RSC both have their own rush ticket schemes which give you bargain prices for shows in the upcoming week.
If in doubt, head out of London! Steer clear of the regional ATG venues and find some of the other varied theatres that are out there. For example, on my Wise Children tour, the most I paid was just over £30 – some tickets were under £20 and still in really good spots. You just have to be prepared to travel, or visit a theatre you might not necessarily frequent.
There’s always a way.