It’s been a long time since I went to the theatre, and after booking tickets to see The Book of Mormon for the fourth time the bug came right back. In May I went to see A Comedy About A Bank Robbery and An American In Paris, and next week I’m seeing Dreamgirls and Half A Sixpence. I just love the magic of live theatre and when you know the tricks of the trade, you can quite often get reasonably priced West End tickets and not spend a bomb. And I want to share my tips on how to get cheap theatre tickets with you! Spoiler: on the five shows I’ve mentioned I spent less than £100, so you’re looking at less than £20 per ticket which is a steal when you know which seats to book!
Quite often, I book last minute. Leaving your booking until the week before is great if you’re not fussed on what you see. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re dying to see a show as you can’t guarantee performances will be available for the dates you want (I’m looking at you Harry Potter & The Cursed Child and Hamilton – you just can’t get last minute seats for these two other than through last minute draws), but if you just want a theatre trip then this can be a real winner. If seats aren’t selling, a lot of companies online will offer discounts. This is great for the more ‘unpopular’ shows rather than the ones that everyone knows and loves but it works. I saw Sweet Charityfor £12 when I booked the night before, and A Comedy About A Bank Robbery for £13 when I booked the week I wanted to go. My favourite sites for last minute tickets are LastMinute.com and Time Out – I’ve had some excellent deals through them before. The only problem with these seats is that you can’t decide exactly where you want to sit, you just get give the best available by the theatre on the day so I always shop around to buy a set seat before I buy through these sites.
Your other option is to book far in advance which I know is a contradiction against the last paragraph. However, theatres have dynamic pricing which means they can inflate prices during the busy seasons. I’d recommend this more for if it’s a show you’re dying to see as you can pick out the best seat for you for a better price than being stuck with whatever is leftover (later in this post I’ll let you into my favourite site for picking seats). You can also save yourself some booking fees by booking 12+ weeks in advance which you may be subject to if you leave it too late.
All over the West End are booths selling cut price tickets. To be honest, they are very rarely much cheaper so I never bother getting anything from them. However, I have friends who swear by TKTS which has a booth in the heart of the West End. It’s in the middle of Leicester Square so you can’t miss it! They sell tickets for that day, and up to a week before (I believe) and they have seats available for pretty much every show. The main reason it doesn’t seem much cheaper is that they add a booking fee, which can often make it just as much as, or more than, a seat direct from the theatre or through another agent but sometimes it’s worth a look! Especially if you want a more expensive seat in the house.
If you’re local to London or are staying in the area for a few days, day seats are a great option. Many theatres hold back the front seats until the day of the show and charge around £20 per seat. The seats aren’t always brilliant depending on how the stage is above the audience but for a reduced fee to be practically in on the action they can’t be worth it. A popular choice of assigning day seats is by holding alottery for tickets. A couple of hours before the show begins, names are called and you get the day seats this way. This is much fairer than showing up at the box office at 9am but it often means there can be a lot of people you’re competing with. I’ve seen lotteries with around 50 people and I’ve seen lotteries with over 200 people. It just depends on the time and day you apply – weekday matinees are often your best shot!
A well-known fact is that West End shows have previews which are often around £5-£10 cheaper per seat than after opening night. When I saw Deathtrap I paid £15 for a seat in the balcony rather than the £20 it would’ve cost me 10 days later. When I saw The Book of Mormon the first time, we paid £65 per seat and these same seats cost a whopping £97.50 now! Whilst shows are subject to change during previews, shows that have had a transfer from Broadway will pretty much remain the same so you’re seeing an identical show for much less. And unless there’s a sickness, the title actors and actresses are pretty much guaranteed to appear as they won’t have booked leave. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing an understudy (the second and third time I saw The Book of Mormon I opted for those dates because an understudy was appearing), but some people like to see the big name actors in the main roles.
A few summers back I booked to see The Commitments for a mere £15. The seats were reduced from £20 (already a bargain) and found up in the balcony which didn’t matter to me. When I handed by ticket over the usher explained that they hadn’t sold enough seats and were closing the balcony for that performance – bummer right? Wrong. I was upgraded to a seat in the fifth row stalls (basically some of the most expensive seats in the house), pretty central and saved myself £85! If you can get to a show on quiet nights then you may be afforded a seat upgrade like I was. This happened when I saw Sweet Charity years back and whilst the upgrade wasn’t quite as good, we still saved ourselves about £20 per ticket!
Not strictly West End theatre but seeing Off West End shows can often be a great way to get your fix and still see a cracking show. Whilst personally I’ve only seen one Off West End show (I saw Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse twice), the actors performing are often seasoned West End stars trialling a new play or musical and are just as talented as the actors on the main stages. In fact, when I was in San Francisco, I got the BART into Berkeley and got to see Samantha Barks in Amélie in its premiere production which is a show that eventually made it to Broadway. I believe think the ticket cost me about £15 so that was a real steal! Depending on the show, Off West End is often cheaper as the product cost isn’t anywhere near as much as on the West End. Smaller sets, fewer costumes, smaller cast and crew – all these things add up to cut the price of a ticket.
There is a website called Theatre Monkey that I swear by. It has seating plans for every single West End theatre with opinions on the majority of seats. Using colour coding, you can immediately tell which seats are worth paying for. I never book a seat that is red, and am over the moon when I manage to get a green seat for a fab price (white seats are average, and that’s what I tend to get). The seat reviews are excellent, and can tell you whether you will have a restricted view of be short of leg space. When I’m booking specific seats I always look at this page and it gives me a real flavour for my seat. Sure, it’s nowhere near as good as seeing the view from your seat (although Theatre Royal Drury Lane did have images of the view from each set of seats when I saw Shrek The Musical which was really helpful – a real shame that they don’t anymore), but it’s a start! Using this service means that seats labelled as Restricted View can be identified otherwise, and it also means that you’re not sat behind a pillar. Seriously, Theatre Monkey is my lifeline.
Cheap seats are very rarely bad in the theatre, and that’s why I’m never concerned about paying a little less. I’d rather be up in the gods and see two or three shows than somewhere in the middle for one show, and if the show is that good you’ll be too captivated to even notice that you’re some distance away. I love the theatre, and you can expect to see a lot more posts about it now that I’m setting myself a goal to see at least one show a month. For £12.50 return to London at the weekend and knowing these tips to get cheap seats, and I can have a full day of theatre goodness (yes, matinees and evening performances on the same day) for under £50. And right now I’d rather spend my money on those experiences than makeup…gasp! I just love the theatre.