Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Price of Theatre.

The other night I went to see 'The Elephant Man' at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.  My ticket cost sixty one pounds (plus a booking fee) and upon arrival at the theatre, I decided to buy the album sized programme, which cost ten pounds.  So basically, this one trip to the theatre cost somewhere in the region of seventy five pounds.  There were cheaper seats available but these promised restricted and limited view of the stage.  Now in February 2015, I saw the Fourth Monkey Ensemble version of 'Elephant Man' at the Brockley Jack Theatre and the tickets were no more than fifteen pounds.  Their production was also more memorable than the much hyped vehicle for Bradley Cooper's theatre work, which was not bad but simply not worth the money.

Now I have had a number of conversations with friends and family where they have commented on how expensive theatre has become.  I have also read a number of articles in newspapers over the years, particularly in regards to booking fees.  I am reaching a point where I think it's necessary for people to become more vocal about this situation or at least to start to dissuade people from falling for the more painful theatre prices.

Let's start with 'premium seats'.  Now these are a relatively new phenomenon and mainly associated with West End theatres.  There seems to be a direct correlation between their creation and the tendency of theatres to encourage leading Hollywood actors to perform in their shows, in order to get 'bums on seats' to use the archaic yet never more relevant phrase.  Now these seats tend to offer you a programme and a drink (sometimes, they have to be bought in multiples of two and the programme is one between two).  The seats on offer as 'premium seats' are quite often the centre stalls.  Indeed, the 'premium seats' seem to be occupying a larger percentage of the stalls and occasionally, dress circle than the regularly priced seats.  These seats tend to be ten pounds or more than the regularly higher priced stall seats.  In fact, they can be even more than this, depending on the show.  I remember the premium tickets for Kevin Spacey's swansong for 'Clarence Darrow' at the Old Vic being out of the price range of anyone outside of theatre goers who only see one show a year or bankers!

Another bugbear are the theatres that choose to alter their pricing between seats.  The same row of seats can be priced at different amounts, supposedly due to the possibility of restricted view.  This has led to some quite funny moments when out with friends where each of us has paid a different amount for seats in the same row.  Just to add that the tickets have all been bought from the theatre, not from a ticket agency.  Now if the seat were behind a pillar, I could understand that but then the theatres shouldn't be selling the seats behind the pillars.  You wouldn't buy a pack of four doughnuts and accept three, would you?

As I briefly mentioned above, tickets purchased from ticket agencies are a similarly interesting experience.  Clearly these days a lot of tickets are presold to ticket agencies or at least, allocated to them.  This can regularly lead to supposedly 'sold out' performances having small sections of empty chairs scattered throughout.  Of course, these can be filled if people want to shift in the interval (once they realise the seats are empty).  The seats offered to the ticket agencies again tend to be the better seats in the stalls and dress circle.  They also charge more for the tickets, thanks to the booking fees and other sundry charges.  The worrying fact is some theatres now seem to solely use ticket agencies to sell their tickets, so even when you buy the tickets from the theatre box office, you are buying from a ticket agency.

This has been quite a negative piece so far, so have any theatres come up with any ideas to reduce ticket prices?  Well, surprisingly yes (ish).  The National Theatre offers cheaper Travelex £15 tickets to all of their major productions.  But there is a catch, the majority of the these tickets are sold to the Members when they go on sale.  Actually, this isn't such as bad thing as it at least means that they are being sold to people who are genuinely interested in the work that is being produced by the theatre as the tiered membership costs different amounts of money.  Also the Barbican offers a percentage off of ticket prices for members (but again, there is a limited allocation of tickets per performance, so there is a degree of urgency when it comes to purchasing tickets).  Another useful technique is to purchase tickets for the preview performances of shows.  This applies to a large number of theatres.

In closing, I would also suggest supporting smaller theatres and the Fringe theatre.  There are loads of wonderful new shows at the Soho Theatre and the Arcola Theatre in London.  Experiment with the theatres that are around you.  There are so many gems around and bear in mind that lots of the major theatre companies preview their works in smaller theatres before transferring them.  Celebrate theatre and don't let it die, as a result of governments who are either disinterested in supporting the arts or even worse, crack down upon it as a means of suppressing potentially revolutionary ideas!

                                                                                       Barry Watt - 16th August 2015.


All of the above theatres and theatre companies have websites and I recommend them all, although I have some objections to ticket pricing as you can see.

Travelex is a trading company who primarily deal in travel money.  Their website is:

'The Elephant Man' and 'Clarence Darrow' are copyright to their respective owners and the playwrights who created them.


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