How to Find Cheap London Theatre Tickets in 2016

London-Theatres_2465513b

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

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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

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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

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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.

5. Previews

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 

Theatre seats at the London Coliseum

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

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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

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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

Digital Theatre

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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).

Archives

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.

DVDs

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?

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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!

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Theatre Tips – How to Find Cheap Theatre Tickets and Access “Sold Out” Shows

London-Theatres_2465513b

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 (the latest attention focussed on the forthcoming musical of Elf, with its exorbitant prices), not all theatre in London is extortionate, especially if you know where to look.

I therefore thought it may be useful to share some tips, some obvious, some less so, as to how to secure tickets at a cheaper price. 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. However, if you can take the time and are keen enough to see something, then hopefully some of these suggestions will prove helpful.

1. Theatre specific schemes

Travelex_2014_banner2

Many theatre have ticket schemes, which offer a cheaper level of seats for certain productions. 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 are:

  • National Theatre Travelex scheme – the scheme is a fantastic aspect of the National Theatre, offering £15 tickets for certain productions throughout the year. What I love about this scheme is that the seats are fantastic, with the first four rows of the Olivier and Lyttelton available as an example. 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.
  • Royal Court £10 Mondays – all tickets for Mondays of every show go on sale on the day for £10, half online and half in person at the box office. Again, you need to be quick, so set yourself a reminder.
  • Southwark Playhouse Pay As You Go Scheme – For £50 paid in advance, you can buy a subscription to the Southwark Playhouse, giving you five tickets. There is no expiry, so you can use the five 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. Each Monday tickets go on sale for the following week’s performances at 10 a.m., offering the front row for only £10.
  • The Trafalgar Transformed seasons from Jamie Lloyd release all Mondays for each month on the 2nd day of each month for £10. If he returns for a third season, it’s almost certain this scheme will return as well.
  • 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 price.
  • 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. A brilliant 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

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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 front row even, 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 starting. A current example of a popular day seat queue is the Barbican Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch (30 tickets at £10 each day). A great resource is the Theatremonkey website, which tries to give as much up to date day seat information as possible.

3. Age discounts

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Many theatres have reduced price tickets for certain age groups, which are great value while you qualify for them. Examples are:

  • Old Vic – under 25s can enjoy £12 tickets for all performances.
  • 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.
  • Young Barbican – discounted tickets available for 16-25 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.

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 to locals. Enquire at your local theatre for information and availability.

5. Previews

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

National-Theatre

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 points. It also gives another perspective on a theatre production to watch it live as it is being filmed. I saw the recent 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. Details of NT:Live here and the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon here.

7. Seat filling websites

Theatre seats at the London Coliseum

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.

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, which in some cases 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! Check sites like Theatremonkey for opinions of views from seats. Twitter is also great for seat tips, as well as the Theatre Forum (registration needed to access the forum).

9. TKTS booth / in person at box office

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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.

10. Digital Theatre

digital-theatre

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).

Sold out shows?

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The other big question I am often asked is how do you get tickets for a “sold out” show. The simplest ways are  either via Day Seats or Returns on the day.

Returns won’t be discounted, as you are offered whatever tickets have been returned to the box office, but if someone can’t attend a show or some of their party can’t, then hopefully they will return their tickets on arrival at the theatre. Anyone waiting in the returns queue will then be offered those tickets at face value. 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.

I’d add to this, if you have tickets you can no longer use, offer them back to the box office for returns. Yes, your tickets are non-refundable, but 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. Chances are a sold out show will have a day seat queue hoping for such tickets to be put up for resale. 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!

My 2014 Theatre Review

As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.

After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

King Charles III
Photo: Johan Persson

Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

A scene from Birdland
Photo: Tristram Kenton

More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche
Photo: Johan Persson

It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.

  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
  • Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
  • Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
  • 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
  • Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
  • Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).

Wonderful repeats from previous years

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:

  • American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
  • Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.

Disappointments of the Year

  • A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
  • Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
  • Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
  • The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.

Memorable moments in Theatre

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:

 A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!

 Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).

 Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.

– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.

 Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.

 Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.

 The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.

 Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.

 Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.

 Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!

All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!

Archimedes’ Principle at the Park Theatre

(Photo for The Park Theatre)

I visited a new theatre this week (sticking to at least one of my new year’s resolutions!). The Park Theatre opened last May in Finsbury Park and contains two performance spaces, one with 200 seats (Part200) and a smaller performance space holdings only 90 seats (Park90). It was the current show at Park90, Archimedes’ Principle that I went to see.

This is a Spanish play written by Josep Maria Miro i Coromina and translated by Dustin Langan for its UK premiere. The title intrigued me initially – the programme sets out that Archimedes’ Principle is that “Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.” In essence through the events of the play we see what could happen if the opposing force on the object overpowers it. In this case it is a person, Brandon, in danger of being submerged by a chain of events he cannot control.

Brandon works as a swimming coach at the local swimming pool. He is young, handsome, athletic and enjoys the banter he has with his fellow coach and friend Matt. It is also clear that he loves his job and is passionate about teaching the young children to overcome their fears and have fun in the water. However on the day on which the play is set he discovers that he has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with one of the young boys in his class – namely a young girl has told her parents that he kissed one of the boys on the mouth, something Brandon strenuously denies.

What follows over the 80 minute running time is an exploration of relationships, trust, honesty and the world we live in today. It is not an easy subject to think about, but one that is sadly all too relevant and, in the wake of the recent child abuse scandals, prominent in all our minds and needs to be approached with care and sensitivity. Thankfully the play does just that.

(Photo by: George Alexandre)

The intimate staging choices are very effective in light of the powerful nature of the subject and the small cast and is very similar to the recent staging of The Pass at the Royal Court. The scenes unfold with the audience sitting on either side of the performance space, which adds to the uneasy feeling that grows as the story unfolds and I particularly enjoyed the structuring of the play. Told in a non-linear fashion, the structure works well to increase the uncomfortable atmosphere. It also gives the audience different perspectives on the same moment, as a later scene which fills in blanks from earlier in the timeline, provides fresh information and insight in to a moment you thought you already understood. Each scene change is marked by the space being plunged in to darkness, as the sound of a public swimming baths fills the air.

The centre of the play is Brandon and Lee Knight plays him convincingly. He starts the play as a confident, cocky young man and becomes someone increasingly frightened by the events spiralling around him and the fragile trust his co-workers seem to have in him. I certainly felt a great deal of sympathy for him throughout most of the play and found it unnerving when this sympathy was shaken every so often by comments or moments that make the audience question his character, just like his colleagues. It is certainly not an easy role and Lee does a great job, often conveying Brandon’s thoughts through nothing but his eyes.

Matt Bradley-Robinson is very good as Matt, who remains conflicted between his friend and the events unfolding. Julian Sims is a strong presence as a concerned, slightly threatening parent trying to justify to manager Anna why, where children are involved, it becomes necessary to distrust adults, which is a sad statement indeed. I found Kathryn Worth’s portrayal of Anna a little less believable, although that may be due to the play itself. I was unconvinced that someone in such a managerial role would not have clear policies in place in the event of such an incident occurring and the way she handles the accusation seemed unrealistic. I did however find the scenes where we discover more about her past interesting and well acted.

It is a brave choice by the playwright to take no side – we are left to come to our own decision as to whether we believe Brandon or not, after seeing and hearing everything that has occurred. What the play does well is make you realise how easily such a situation could arise – someone sees something (or thinks they see something), tells someone else, who posts it on social media. In our fast paced world nothing can be contained for very long, which is a frightening thought in itself. It also raises questions – who can we believe? How much should we have a right to know about our colleagues? How can we know our children are safe? Does our need for safety sometimes go too far, unnecessarily damaging the lives of others?

Overall I enjoyed my trip to the Park Theatre and Archimedes’ Principle is an interesting play, which certainly leaves its audience with plenty to think about. If you have time to see it then you should.

Archimedes’ Principle runs at Park90 at the Park Theatre until 11th May. For more details visit the theatre’s website:

http://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/archimedes-principle