This year I’ve been totally exploiting my close proximity to London and I’ve visited the theatre almost every week. Of course, this is not a cheap thing to do but it’s probably not as expensive as you think. The main costs is the train fare to London, as I’ve become quite a pro at hunting down those bargain theatre tickets.
So here’s my top tips to bag yourself a great seat at a great price!
1) Today Tix
Today Tix is an app. Much like any other theatre booking app, it allows you to book theatre tickets. Obviously. But the best thing about Today Tix is that it also does ticket lotteries (more about that later) and last minute deals. The other day it popped up with a notification on my phone for Dreamgirls tickets for £22. And guess what, two days later I’m sat slap-bang in the centre of the stalls for one of the west ends hottest tickets. Even the big shows suffer from the sun and the unfortunate events that have been taking place in London recently. So when there's a quiet Wednesday matinee they turn to places like Today Tix to get those bums back on seats.
2) Don't wait for the tour
Waiting for the West End hits to go on tour used to be a sure fire way to see it for a better price. This is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, all my most recent experiences with touring shows has meant a higher price for a lower quality. Touring shows often get scaled down to go on the road but it doesn’t stop the prices from getting higher and higher. Earlier this year I saw rent in London; front row. Cost me about £10… no joke! I then saw it again in Woking. I was sat in the gods… £37! Great show… expensive night out watching ants sing!
3) Pick your seat wisely
Just because you’re on a budget doesn't mean you can’t get close to the action. Don't go straight for the highest, furthest away section going. Start where you want to sit. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the stalls are the most expensive place to sit but have a little look in the surrounding areas. Often the sides and front are cheaper. The front two rows are usually some of the cheapest seats going. In some theatres this might mean you have to look up a little but the majority will be just fine… much better than being a million miles away! Also, if you can, see if you can find a picture of the auditorium on Google. In some theatres the gods are really high, some are just fine. In some the circle is quite far back, in some not so much. In some theatres the circle is far enough forward to block the view of the top of the stage from the stalls. Have a look and see what works best in that theatre and for your wallet.
4) See a preview
This is my absolute go to. Previews are the shows just before press night. This is when the show is still being tweaked and tested before the reviewers get their hands on it. For this reason you might not be seeing quite the finished product but more often than not you will. And remember, these are still shows to the paying public so make no mistake, the quality will be just as high but the price could be easily slashed by 50%! Obviously you wont have the luxury of seeing from the reviews if it’s a good show or not (because reviews are never wrong haha!) but if you want to see it then you want to see it.
5) Reject the West End
That’s right, west end tickets are getting more and more expensive so at some point you just have to bid farewell to those huge, automated sets and sparkly costumes. The west end is a wonderful treat from time to time but once you move away from it you’ll find a whole new world of amazing, cheap theatre. And just because you decide to look off-west end, doesn't mean you’ll be seeing shoddy productions with no budget. Talk to people you know and find out where to go for a west end worthy production on an off-west end budget. I for one can tell you that you will find top notch, polished, first-class shows on at The Other Palace in Victoria. So there’s no excuse to be clinging on to the west end like a snob… plus, the offerings on the west end get worse every year so you’ll hardly be missing out. The set for Phantom’s starting to look as makeshift and tired as shows I’ve seen in old warehouses.
6) Go to a Festival
Obviously going to the Edinburgh Fringe is pricey, but once you’re there you’ll find an entire programme of shows for less than £15. Thousands! Shows from all over the world. And £15 is generally the most you'll pay. Most are £5 or £10 or even free! The shows performing at the fringe will go on to be the next years season of London shows. So, if you’re smart and pick well, you can see them all in Edinburgh for a fraction of the price before they transfer to London. So make the most of it! And if you can't make it up to Edinburgh, there's festivals all over London all year round that offer similar experiences and prices. Udderbelly Festival and Vault Festival to name just a couple.
7) Discover the Schemes
Almost every theatre nowadays has some kind of scheme running to help get people into the theatre. Obviously they're really aimed at people who don’t usually go to see a show, but you can use them none the less. Just check out the website of your favourite theatre and see what they’ve got going on. Many will have deals for young people, though there are schemes in all shapes and sizes if you look hard enough. Every year the National Theatre has a Travelex season, where is does hundreds of tickets for its shows for £15. So have a snoop about and see what’s happening and when.
8) Ticket Lotteries
Ticket lotteries have become massive in the past few years. It’s a way for theatre’s to keep the general public interested in their shows even when they’re sold out months in advance. To keep buzz and hopes alive, lots of shows hold back a selection of (generally front row… remember I said they were cheaper seats!) seats to be won through a daily lottery. For some shows you have to go to the venue and wait outside to enter, which helps the theatre look nice and busy and exciting even before the audience arrive. They often make the entrants cheer and sing. Marketing genius! This is fine if you happen to be in London or you live in the City but now the trend is becoming a bit more expansive and also operating online. So you can enter from the comfort of you own home and still have enough notice (usually at least a good 5 hours) to get to London for the show if you’re close enough. They still keep their amazing marketing alive by getting you to post on twitter or Facebook but now you don’t have to stand in the cold for no good reason. It’s win win!
9) See a Play
It has always been, and probably will always be the case, that plays are cheaper to see than musicals. They're cheaper to stage, usually have a smaller cast and are less commercially viable. So don't be blinkered into just seeing musicals. The word 'Play' fills some people with dread as they imagine tired, old fashioned productions like the Mousetrap or yet another revival of an Alan Aykbourne classic. But contemporary plays have never been more innovative or exciting. So broaden your horizons and ditch the singing, it will save you a fortune and you'll see a damn good show too!
10) Engage with Social Media
By enaging with as much social media as possible you'll find out the best deals before everyone else. This is how I find out about shows as soon as they go on sale, this way I can sweep in and grab those bargain basement seats before they're all snapped up. Also, unfortunatly sometimes great shows don't sell well so theatres turn to social media to try and engage their audience. At this point they will flood Facebook and twitter with ticket giveaways and competitions to try and get some attention. So be there when it hits and enter all the competitions going... you actually have a pretty good chance of winning! It's all about bums on seats and this is their way of communicating with you.
So there you have it, my guide to seeing the best shows on a shoe-string!
Let me know if you have any tips and tricks of you own and hopefully I’ll find myself sat next to you in those cheap front row seats for a preview performance at The Other Palace very soon.