We have already read with interest about the phenomenon of premium pricing and other theatre rip-offs and shared some of our experiences. What is the common theme here? Producers will charge what they think they can get. Our motto is that you don’t always get what you pay for!
Here are some of the strategies we have used to try to beat the theatre ‘fat cats’:
Go to the source
We know that many of the best productions in the West End come from the fringe (London and elsewhere). Why wait for some producer to decide what’s good – cut out the middleman. Yes, it’s hit and miss, but then that’s part of the fun. Sometimes you get a superior cast and although you may lose on comfort, you gain on intimacy. A classic example in recent years being ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ – in our humble opinion the original and best cast (Phillip Quast and Douglas Hodge) was at the Menier Chocolate factory, (although those at the front tables may well have found the venue a little too intimate!)
Check out the tours
If your favourite talent show contestant didn’t win, check out the touring version – they may well be in it. We were quite happy to forgo Lee Mead in ‘Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat’ in favour of Craig Chalmers at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley. Seriously though, a more recent example would be the 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables which starred John Owen-Jones, who was once voted the ‘Best Jean Valjean Ever’ in a worldwide online poll of fans of the show. Not that we’re biased!
Get to know the monkey
Top of our list of friends of the ticket-buying public is Theatremonkey. Of course there are the famous ‘seat opinion’ plans which grade on both value for money and price. These are invaluable, especially coupled with the individual ‘seat opinions’ to help you find the ‘least worst’ cheap seat. Quite often one person’s nightmare seat is another person’s bargain. And we use it as a portal for getting box office information. Generally if you google the theatre name, you can end up with a third party agent with a hefty booking fee – Theatremonkey will always alert you to booking fees.
Pick your seats yourself
We are not convinced that web booking brings up the best selection of seats. We often go in person and telephone booking has been helpful. We find that although there is often only a tiny selection of low-priced or restricted view seats they don’t seem to sell out – but you need to choose carefully. We also got over our embarrassment at saying ‘we want the cheapest seats’ straight off to avoid the charade where the booking clerk goes through all the tickets starting at the highest price.
Get ahead of the crowd
Sometimes previews are cheaper, and often worth the risk. Sometimes the flaws are part of entertainment. And if you are in the minority and really enjoyed a show that closed early, you’ll be glad you saw it. Our favourite preview experience was ‘Gone with the Wind’ which we saw literally on the first night. A stagehand came out to warn the audience that the show would overrun massively (presumably due to Trevor Nunn being unable to decide which songs to cut). The actress playing Bonnie had to go home early because of the working time regulations for children, leaving Rhett Butler to mime the touching death scene without her. We can’t guarantee that all previews will be this entertaining, of course.
Back to basics
Sometimes it’s nice to have all the trimmings, but good drama can be very basic. For example OperaUpClose’s La Boehme and Madam Butterfly which we have already mentioned. The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has become famous for its fact-based dramas, which simply present dramatised factual accounts, often using actual transcripts, notably ‘Deepcut’ and ‘Stockwell’, about the shooting of Jean-Charles De Menezes. And for quality performances of obscure musical theatre songs, there’s ‘Blink’ at Above the Stag theatre - ‘Blink Again’ is coming soon. These productions may skimp on the set, but not usually on the quality of the performances.
We welcome your comments and suggestions