It’s been the talk of the town since Hamilton hit the London theatre scene that West End theatre prices are going through the roof. Tickets are selling for £250 apiece, which is unheard of in London (and funny really since it’s not a cheap city) and the likes of Chess and The King And I aren’t far behind! But on the other end of the spectrum, touring companies are failing. You’d think that productions right on people’s door steps would be sell-outs, and whilst some are, other shows play to half-empty theatres night after night.
But why? I’ve got a couple of theories, and I can hand on heart say that some the reasons I’m giving are the exact reasons that I rarely see shows out of the city.
If we just look at the simple cost of a ticket, the average ticket on tour isn’t much different in price to one in the West End. Whilst the West End prices its seats higher when it comes to ‘premium’ seating, it also balances these out with more affordably-priced restricted view seats. For example, over the past month or so I’ve booked to see Six at the Arts Theatre for just £6 and Red at Wyndham’s Theatre for £10. The cheapest touring ticket I’ve bought was £17.50. Deals aren’t often found on tour as they are sold directly through the theatre, rather than through agents (which is honestly how I buy most of my tickets, although the cheap seats I just mentioned were bought directly from the theatre in advance).
Another expense is actually getting to the theatre. If we take the average price I spend on a touring production and a West End production I come out with the following expenses:
Tour: £25 ticket + £15 petrol + £2 parking = £42
West End (direct through theatre): £20 ticket + £18 train (average, as it varies depending on day) + £5 tube = £43
These prices do not include any ticket fees, a programme (which I will always purchase, and the pricing here ranges from £3 to £10), any food or drink at the venue or any merchandise that I may want to purchase. Obviously the more people you add, the cheaper the petrol and parking becomes per person but the train prices remain the same for each individual, but I often go alone whether I’m making the trip into London or going locally. Another thing to bear in mind is that tours are also only one show, whereas I frequently see two shows in a day if I visit London on a Saturday. On a Saturday my train ticket reduced to £13, making the average cost just £29 per show, which is significantly cheaper than a touring production.
I’m not saying that the quality of performance in a West End production is any better than that of a national tour. In fact, if you take the likes of the Les Miserables tour next year, we’ve got Killian Donnelly going on the road and he’s been in the West End production on and off for years, and many cast members in any touring production will have West End experience. What I’m talking about is the whole ‘experience’ of going to the theatre. Spending the day in London is far more exciting than popping down the road to your local theatre!
I am lucky to live close enough at the moment to just go to the theatre in the evening and not have to make a day of it, and I still make the last train home. I don’t have to make a day of it but I choose to do so at the weekend. For people who can only afford to see maybe one or two shows per year, I can completely understand why people want to go to London and have the ‘full’ experience.
I am in no way discrediting touring companies and productions as without them, many people wouldn’t have access to the theatre. I have really loved some shows I’ve caught on tour which I may not have had the chance to see otherwise, but I totally understand why certain theatres are failing.
If you want theatre on your doorstep, it’s time to step up and support the companies coming to your local venues. If not, the prices will continue to rise, and seeing West End worthy productions in your nearest town just won’t be possible.