These days, with high seat prices and sell-out shows, you have to be clever to get West End theatre tickets without breaking the bank and queueing for hours. Jane Watkins offers some practical ways to make sure you’re there when the curtain goes up
1. Get the best discounted tickets
Most people are familiar with the booth in Leicester Square that sells discounted tickets. Founded in 1980 as Half Price Ticket Booth, it’s now called tkts, and offers an extra range of services. You can book discounted tickets for that day or for up to a week in advance at the booth on or the new website at http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts. Most of the tickets are half price, although only have a 25% discount or are full price, and you’ll just be charged a £3 booking fee, which is included in the price quoted.
2. Go to a preview or a matinee
Most shows have about a week of performances before the opening night (complex shows such as musicals may have more) and these are generally offered at a reduced rate, the thinking being that the actors are still settling in and any staging machinery needs trying out in “live” conditions. I regularly go to previews and haven’t been disappointed yet.
Weekends tend to get booked quickly, so try going on another day – for some reason, Thursday is usually quieter. Or try a matinee (you’ll feel very decadent at a weekday matinee while everyone’s at work) – but do check to make sure if a star will be appearing if you want to see them particularly. The theatre is obliged to tell you, and if you book your tickets on that basis and they don’t appear (unless they’re ill or something unforeseeable), you can get a refund.
3. Use the theatre box office
Many theatres now use ticket agencies to sell their tickets over the phone and that can add a hefty booking fee. Always check how much that will add to your ticket price – it can be quite a bit. Even postage can add more than £1! If you go to theatre box office to book, you’ll generally only pay the ticket price, or a much-reduced handling fee if there is one, and you can find out if there are any sightline problems with your chosen seats. (If you don’t mind having to lean over a bit or miss some of the stage, seats with restricted visibility are reduced in price – although not by enough to make it worthwhile sometimes!)
4. House seats
Theatres will hold a certain number of seats for their own use. If they’re not allocated, then they release them to the public, generally at almost the last minute (Friday afternoon for a Saturday matinee for example), which can be handy for a sold-out hit. You may have to pay a premium on them, but they will really be the best seats in the house!
Many theatres will also keep back a number of seats that you can apply for on the day. But do expect to queue for hours and hours and hours and possibly not get in.
5. Book early
The other side of that is to book early. Don’t wait for the reviews before deciding to go. Visit http://www.whatsonstage.com and find out when your choice will start and when booking commences. Most London theatres are surprisingly small and so get booked up very quickly. On the other hand, you’ll be able to see and hear well in most of them wherever you sit.
See top-class productions of shows such as Phèdre (starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper at the National Theatre with Travelex’s excellent £10 ticket offer. Phèdre will be shown in 100 cinemas worldwide on June 25 – go to http://www.ntlive.com for details. Further productions will be shown later in the year
6. Keep your eye out for subsidised performances
One of the most successful schemes in recent years has been the National Theatre’s Travelex
series. Blocks of seats at the front of the theatre are offered at £10
or £15 for a limited time for all its main shows. You’re more prepared
to take a chance on something if you haven’t broken the bank to see it.
7. Become a member/friend
To book really early, take out a membership or become a friend of the theatre group or company involved. Knowing tickets for David Tennant as Hamlet would sell out immediately, I became a member of the RSC for £25 and got priority booking before tickets were released to the public. You’ll get other benefits too, depending on the organisation, from reduced prices at the bar to exclusive events.
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