A view from the cheap seats
I think one of the top things people in London like to complain about is how expensive everything is. Especially when we go somewhere one doesn’t have to take out a second mortgage on their house to afford a three course dinner at a nice restaurant. Oh wait, did I say house? I meant the single bedroom you rent for the monthly price of a second hand Jaguar or a small island near Scotland. So, yes, complaining . . . I’m sure you get the gist.
One thing I can’t complain about in terms of price, however, is the theatre (fortunately). I don’t mean to say that there aren’t any ridiculously expensive tickets for sale. A premium Saturday evening seat for Book of Mormon will still set you back just over £200, while a place in the stalls at the Royal Opera will cost you between £140 and £180 at any given time. Price differentiation, however, is huge, and that’s what makes theatre affordable for the poor peasants living outside of the blessed borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You can, for example, also get a ticket to the opera for as little as £5.
Many theatres also have schemes for young people, which often have very good deals. Just this morning I booked several shows at the National Theatre through their Entry Pass programme, which means that tickets are only £5 each. I’m also a member of about ten other ‘young people schemes’, although, sadly, not for much longer. I have another four months and a bit before I turn twenty-six, at which point the glory days will definitely be over. Well, you know, at least in terms of sitting in the front row for the price of a pint. Half a year from now my student card will also run out, and then I’ll have to resign myself to life as a regular person who isn’t eligible for any young people, old people, student or family schemes.
It’s therefore a relief that, even for those unenviable normal people, there are cheap tickets to be had, although getting them requires a little more effort and a bit of compromising. Like I mentioned, a lot of theatres have a wide range of prices. Getting the cheapest ones does usually mean 1) going on Monday evenings or Saturday afternoons, 2) having to lean forward/stand/imagine the pillar in the middle of your sightline is invisible and 3) taking the time to find that last Monday evening seat behind the pillar in the first place. And yes, I totally understand that some people find that too much effort for too little reward. But if you want to go to the theatre regularly and still be able to afford your rent, inconvenient show times and odd corners where no one wants to sit are a blessing.
This goes especially once you’ve seen a lot of theatres, tried out a bunch of seats and gotten the hang of which tickets are good value and which aren’t. In some theatres ‘restricted view’ means having to lean forward slightly, whereas in others it means the sightlines are so bad they probably should’ve fired the architect (or, in some cases, the director of the show). Some theatres are so small that every seat is a good one, some are so vast you’re better off sitting closer to the stage at a weird angle than in the middle at the back, clutching your binoculars.
So yes, theatre in London can be cheap. But there is a bit of an art to it: you have to know when to go, where to go and, above all, you have to be persistent. I mean, we haven’t even talked about queuing for day tickets yet! I might save that particular topic for a blog post this summer though, because some epic queuing is bound to happen at Barbican when Mr Hamlet Cumberbatch takes the stage. The auditorium on that occasion will be an interesting mix, with people who paid for Barbican memberships and top price tickets sitting next to those who’ve gotten in on ten quid and, quite possibly, an all-nighter outside the theatre. And the best thing is, they’ll probably both think they’ve gotten the better deal.