As a regular and enthusiastic theatregoer, I’m often asked by friends how I can afford it, to which I explain that, despite the rising prices for big West End shows, not all theatre in London is extortionate, especially if you know where to look and are open to visiting a wider variety of venues.
Last year, I shared a few tips, some obvious, some less so, as to how to secure tickets at a cheaper price and with the new year upon us and budgets tight after Christmas, it seemed the perfect time to revisit this topic. Most of these options require some effort, whether that’s getting up early to queue or setting a diary reminder to jump on a website the moment seats are released, but others are offers that may be available to you due to where you live or your age. Hopefully some of these tips will highlight that great seats at reasonable prices are possible and that you shouldn’t let the fact a show is sold out put you off, as nothing is ever really “sold out”.
1. Theatre-specific schemes
Many theatres have ticket schemes, which offer a cheaper price band of seats for certain productions, which are often still very good seats in terms of view. It’s always worth checking their website in advance to become familiar with such schemes and when tickets are due to go on sale. Some of the best schemes currently are set out below. Click on the links for more details.
National Theatre Travelex Scheme – this scheme is a fantastic aspect of the National Theatre, offering £15 tickets for certain productions throughout the year. In order to secure these tickets, the best tip is to book quickly as once public booking opens for each new National season these seats go fast.
National Theatre £20 Friday “Rush” – Every Friday at 1 p.m., some tickets for the following week’s productions go on sale online for £20. These are proving very popular, so set your reminders to make sure you don’t miss out.
Royal Court £10 Mondays – all tickets for Mondays of every show go on sale on the day for £10. Again, you need to be quick, so set yourself a reminder.
Southwark Playhouse Pay As You Go scheme – For £60 paid in advance, you can buy a subscription to the Southwark Playhouse, effectively giving credit which can be used to buy five tickets. There is no expiry once you’ve paid your £60, so you can buy the five tickets over as long or short a period as you choose (only two can be used at a time for one performance though). It’s a great scheme, so have a look at their website for details.
Donmar Barclays Front Row – This is one of the toughest, as tickets go very very quickly. Tickets are released each Monday, for performances two weeks later, offering the front row for only £10.
Old Vic PwC £10 Preview Scheme – Under this scheme, half of all seats are priced at £10 for the first five previews of each production. These go on sale five weeks in advance are are brilliant value for money.
The Trafalgar Transformed seasons from Jamie Lloyd have an offer for reduced price tickets on Mondays. The next show The Maids will also have a £15 Mondays scheme. Purchase details have yet to be announced. Keep an eye on the website here.
The Park Theatre at Finsbury Park has a Pay What You Can Afford scheme on certain days (usually all matinees) to allow people to make a donation instead of paying the standard ticket prices.
The Young Vic tends to offer a season saver, whereby if you buy three shows in the season at full price, you’ll get a discount (currently 20%). A great deal if you intend to see most of the theatre’s season.
The Bush Theatre also offers a season saver – book 3 shows at top price in one go and only pay for two!
2. Day Seats or Lotteries
Day seats are one of the most widely used and easiest ways to get cheaper tickets for bigger, more expensive shows if you are prepared to put the effort in. This basically means getting up early and joining a queue! Day seat policies vary from theatre to theatre and even show to show at a theatre, but are always great value as they tend to offer good seats, sometimes even the front row, for a cheaper price. Admittedly, the higher the stage, the more uncomfortable this front row could be, but if prices are inflated, it’s often the most accessible option. You can call up the box office of the theatre to check what it’s day seat policy is and how early the queue is generally starting. A great resource is the Theatremonkey website, which tries to give as much up to date day seat information as possible. One further tip for day seats is to take cash, as some don’t accept debt/credit cards.
Lotteries are less common in the UK, but are still run for certain shows, such as The Book of Mormon, which runs an online lottery for its day seats. Check with the theatre or the website of the show you are interested in.
3. Age-related Discounts
Many theatres have reduced price tickets for certain age groups, which are great value while you qualify for them. Don’t make my mistake and leave it too late to take advantage of these! Examples are:
- Almeida – under 30s can buy tickets for £19 on Mondays only.
- National Theatre – Those 16 – 25 can buy £5 tickets through the Entry Pass scheme. You need to sign up to the scheme in advance.
- RSC – Those 16 – 25 can buy £5 tickets through the RSC Key scheme. A bargain to see such great Shakespeare!
- Young Barbican – discounted tickets available for 14-25 year olds across all its events.
- Tricycle Theatre – TRIKE scheme offers £10 theatre tickets for those under 26.
- Young Vic – £10 tickets for under 25s.
Check a theatre’s website for details of their scheme and what you need to do to take advantage of it, as you may have to register first, bring proof of age on collection etc.
4. Resident discounts
Certain theatres offer discounts for residents within their community. The Bush (in Shepherd’s Bush) via the Bush Local scheme and the Lyric (in Hammersmith) are both examples of theatres which give some form of discount for certain performances to locals. Enquire at your local theatre for information and availability and what proof of address is required.
A good proportion of theatres sell preview performances at cheaper prices, to take account of the fact that the show is still under development. Don’t let this put you off though, as it usually merely means tweaks rather than substantive changes, which can be interesting if you plan on seeing something again later in the run and can then see what the changes were.
6. NT Live / the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon filming nights
These days more and more shows are being filmed for cinema screenings. Generally, these performances result in discounted prices for the audience in the theatre that evening, due to the possibility of a camera restricting your view at certain points. It also gives another perspective on a theatre production to watch it live as it is being filmed. I saw last year’s National Theatre Man & Superman on NT:Live filming night, enjoying a £50 seat for £29. Of course, these recordings also offer the opportunity for many more people to watch a performance from their local cinema for the price of a cinema ticket which is fantastic. Details of NT:Live here and the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon here.
7. Seat filling websites
Both The Audience Club and Play By Play UK are examples of companies which assist producers with filling seats, whether during early previews to get people talking or if a show is doing less well. The Audience Club membership starts with a £4 donation to Marie Curie and requires you to see 12 shows in the first year to qualify for the next level of membership (with access to larger shows). Play By Play costs £75 a year to join, which gives you access to their full range. Fees then payable on each ticket range from £2-£3. Crucially you must respect the discretion policy of both companies and if attending a show via either company, keep this to yourself within the venue and on social media both beforehand and afterwards. Both require you to email your interest in joining and you will then be contacted when room is available for new members. As a member of both schemes I definitely find them a wonderful additional resource for obtaining tickets and have made back the cost of my PBP fee in the last year.
8. Restricted view options
All theatres sell certain seats at cheaper rates due to their positioning causing a restricted view. The more you try, the more you get to know which are actually not that restricted at all. This often results in a bargain. Examples being slim pillars in your view, which often don’t block too much and are fine if you go as a pair and can lean more to one side if you know the person next to you or even swap with each other halfway! Check sites like Theatremonkey for opinions of views from seats as provided by regular theatregoers. Twitter is also great for seat tips, as well as the Theatre Forum (registration needed to access the forum).
9. Get In To London Theatre
Another wonderful scheme aimed at getting people to go to the theatre is the brilliant Get In To London Theatre scheme. I’ve been raving about this to friends over the last few weeks and there is still time to take advantage of the scheme for 2016. Get In To London Theatre offers cheaper seats to lots of London plays and musicals across January and early February. Tickets range from between £10-£40 and are particularly good value for the big musicals.
10. TKTS booth / in person at box office
The TKTS booth in Leicester Square is the official discount-selling booth, which offers some fantastic offers on discounted tickets for shows. This is especially useful if you are looking for tickets at the last minute. Another saving is to book at the box office in person if you can. This way you can avoid the booking fees added to online sales.
11. Mobile phone ticket apps
Mobile phone apps are starting to offer theatre ticket opportunities. The best for deals so far is TodayTix. This free mobile app (until last year only offering Broadway deals) now offers discounted London tickets for last minute theatre trips, or trips within that week to a variety of shows. Some productions are running their ticket lotteries through it, such as the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick, which offer £15 lottery seats via the app, which you can enter as many days as you like.
12. Recordings of Theatre Productions
Another recent development is the growth of filmed productions being made available online for purchase as rentals or purchases to keep forever. This is mainly thanks to the brilliant Digital Theatre, which currently offers some brilliant shows. These include the wonderful Private Lives starring Anna Chanellor and Toby Stephens, Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate and The Crucible starring Richard Armitage. Prices are very reasonable (around £4 rental, £9 SD purchase and £11 HD purchase).
For older shows, there may be the possibility of watching a recording within a theatre archive. The best examples are the National Theatre’s own archive, housed at The Cut (next to the Old Vic) and the V&A Performance Archive (housed at Blythe House in Kensington Olympia). Both of these archives are free of charge but subject to making a request in advance (usually 2-3 weeks). On arrival, you put on headphones and watch the recording on a screen. You won’t be able to take food and drink in to the room and may only use pencils to make notes and of course filming on your phone or other device is not permitted.
1These recordings are a wonderful way to see productions from years ago or more recent ones you’ve missed. I have a very long list of productions I need to see in the archives! Why not search their online catalogues to see what may be of interest to you.
Some theatre companies are now releasing recordings on DVD, so you may even be able to purchase them to watch from the comfort of your home. Shakespeare’s Globe has been doing this for a while, but the RSC is now also releasing certain productions on DVD.
13. Sold out shows?
The other big question I am often asked is how do you get tickets for a “sold out” show. The fact is no show is ever really sold out. The simplest ways to obtain such tickets are either via Day Seats or Returns on the day.
Returns are something non-regular theatregoers tend not to know about. Tickets always say non-refundable right? Well, if you have a ticket bought from the theatre / show’s official website and can no longer attend, if that show is popular or sold out, you may be able to offer it for returns. Anyone at the theatre hoping for a ticket, will then but the ticket from the theatre, who will then credit your card.
Returns won’t be discounted, as you are offered whatever tickets have been returned to the box office. It’s never guaranteed, but I’ve never failed yet in a returns queue and that includes at small venues such as the Donmar. I’d recommend getting there around 3 hours before the show starts to join the queue, although for popular shows it may need to be much earlier than that. Some theatre simply take your name and say to come back at a certain time, at which any returns go to those waiting in order of the names on the list.
I’d add to this, if you have tickets you can no longer use, offer them back to the box office for returns. If a show is sold out then the theatre is usually willing to accept them, on the understanding that there is no guarantee of your money back. You lose nothing more by trying and it may mean someone else gets to fill the seat.
So if there’s something you really want to see, but think it’s too expensive or sold out, look in to some of these options and maybe you’ll be able to go after all!