London is expensive. Theatre is expensive. Mash the two together and the archetype of the struggling thespian suddenly starts to extend to the audience as well. Now, theatre is one of my many loves and money is one of my many shortcomings, so here are a few tips and tricks I’ve used before, to save money on theatregoing in the capital.
Buy Your Tickets on the Day
As long as you don’t have your heart set on seeing one particular West End Musical on a Friday or a Saturday night, then this is the easiest way to save money on big theatre events. The theatre ticket booth – TKTS – at Leicester Square is great for offering tickets for up to half price on the day, for shows including the Lion King, Woman in Black, and Phantom of the Opera – to name but a few. They change the offerings at 11am every morning so if you want to save even more and can get to the theatre on time, then book for one of the matinees, or take a risk on collection and order from their website.
Queue for Returns
Theatre in London books up so many months in advance that’s it’s an impossibility that someone, somewhere, won’t be able to make it. If you head to the box office at the theatre in question and queue before the show, the chances are they’ll be giving out tickets from all sections of seating at far lower prices than you’ll find anywhere else. Even the big theatres don’t want empty seats; just don’t be too disappointed if it’s not your night and you end up getting turned away.
Book ‘Bad’ Seats
Booking a seat in the stalls at a sold-out West End musical is bound to be extortionate, but the big secret is this: in most of the large theatres seats in the circles higher up are just as good, if not better than the pricey ones below.
The tickets outside of the stalls – or in the standing section in spaces like The Globe – are sometimes half the price of the seats closer to the front, so it’s an easy way to save money whilst seeing exactly the same show as the people who’ve paid through the nose for the privilege. The one glaring exception to this rule is The Royal Opera House, where your view of the stage will be severely restricted if you choose your seats badly, so book wisely when you make the choice.
Take Advantage of Previews
Previews are both an audience’s and a theatre maker’s best friend. The previews are the performances that allow the director and production team to make last minute changes to the show, and allow the performer’s and backstage team to get settled into the space before the critics begin to arrive.
Most plays in London have at least a few days of previews, and while not all of these will be free – although some will – they will always be offered at a hugely discounted rate. In the West End and mainstream theatres, too, you’ll probably find very little difference between the show during the previews and the show on opening night.
Explore the Fringe Theatres
Fringe theatre means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but where London’s concerned I’m using it to mean ‘not a West End show’. Everyone wants to visit the West End when they come to London, ok? If you’ve only got one night and you’ve got your heart set on a stirring rendition of ‘One Day More’ then by all means, go and see Les Misérables. But if you just want to explore some different venues for performance in a new city, then you could do a lot worse than London’s Fringe offerings.
Some of the theatres that spring immediately to mind are the Royal Court Theatre, Finborough Theatre, The Pleasance, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Southwark Playhouse, and the Union Theatre. All of these and many, many more deliver a range of work across London, from new writing to reimagined classics. If it’s an evening at the theatre you want, rather than the bright lights of show business, then striking out away from the West End might be a better choice.
Become a Friend of the Theatre
This might not be a viable option if you’re only in London for a few days, but signing up to become a Friend of the Theatre for a small one-off fee will usually give you huge benefits as an audience member in the long run. Not only does your contribution help to support a smaller theatre, but you’ll also get discounted rates on drinks, emails about previews, 2 for 1 tickets and loads of other perks.
How do you save money on theatre tickets in London? Let me know in the comments!