5 Top Tips on Theatre-going in London by Guest Blogger, Simon Harding

Simon Harding
London, UK

I’ve heard that buying tickets for Broadway can be quite daunting. I don’t know but I have been told! In comparison and despite rumours to the contrary, buying theatre tickets for any of the great shows in London is really straight forward, but it does help to keep a few things in mind.

Lyceum Theatre
There are about 35 main West End theatres open at any one time. Over half of them have musicals and, because of their popularity and because of the financials involved, these are the shows that carry on for years and that everyone has heard of. 

Of course there are some exceptions: Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap of course, War Horse, the hilarious stage adaptation of 39 Steps and more recently the comedy One man Two Guvnors” are just some of the great plays and comedies in town, but in general musicals are what make the West End go round!

Each show has 7 or 8 performances a week: normally one each evening (Monday to Saturday, a midweek matinee and a weekend matinee, although some are starting to have Sunday performances in which case they drop the Monday night one!

The most popular day to see a show is a Saturday night, so here are my 5 Top Tips on Theatre-Going in London:

Tip One: Avoid Saturday nights if you can.
There is nothing wrong with Saturday nights, but because everyone wants to go on a Saturday, so tickets are harder to come by, not as good when you get them and there are never any deals, unless you book very last minute and then you run the risk of not getting in or only getting rubbish seats.

The main Theatreland area runs between The Aldwych in the SE corner, Haymarket in the SW corner, Oxford Circus in the NW corner and the Eastern end of Shaftesbury Avenue on the NE corner. So if you wanted to visit each theatre to check availability you would need to do quite a bit of walking (and I haven’t even mentioned the two theatres in Victoria which host Billy Elliot and Wicked at the moment).

This is why agents do so well: go to a booth in Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus and they will have their own allocation for all the London shows across Theatreland. Midweek, some of these shows have discounts and you can get those through these agents, but if they don’t have any discounts then the agents will charge up to 25% on tickets. So just because you are paying £50 per ticket doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting a £50 ticket: it could be a deal on a £65 ticket or it could be a £40 ticket with a fee attached.

STAR, the self governing body of ticket agents, recommends that 25% is the biggest fee you should pay: DON’T PAY MORE – go another night, see another show.

Tip 2: When buying tickets from agents, always ask what the “Face Value” of the ticket is: by law the agent must tell you.

Tip 2 a: because agents operate from their own allocation if they say things like “It’s the last pair” or “It’s sold out” remember, they could just be talking about their own allocation. At the time of writing only one show is regularly selling out all performances.

Tip 3: Plan ahead. If the main reason for your trip to London is to see one of its world-famous shows and you don’t have very long to stay there, don’t waste your time trying to sort out tickets on the day: you may get a deal but this is supposed to be a relaxing stay in town: maybe you are celebrating something, maybe you have just worked hard to save up the money and holiday time to get away. Whatever the reason, don’t put more pressure on your time there.

Book hotels, theatres, and any attractions before you arrive, because many of those discounts available on the day are available in advance through these companies too.

Tip 4: Don’t expect to buy two drinks from the bar at the interval with a tenner, unless you nip out to the pub next door! If you are going to the Adelphi or Vaudeville Theatres, carefully cross the road and go to the enterprising Newsagents opposite who stocks pre-mixed drinks and small bottles of beer and wine: £2.79 for a Vodka and Cranberry juice! He also does Ice creams too: perfect for summer nights.

Tip 5: If you do not want to dash round the corner, or run across roads for your interval drinks, make your interval order when you arrive at the theatre. This way they will be waiting for you and you have enough time to enjoy them rather than swigging them down before you go back in (or be forced to decant them into a plastic cup to take them back into the auditorium!)

In the end and however you do it, a trip to the theatre should be a relaxed, carefree occasion. Whether that means planning everything ahead, making sure it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, or a mixture of the two. The most important thing is that you enjoy it, because let’s face it: you probably don’t do it as often as you would like to! Who does!

Simon Harding has been promoting culturally-inspired travel for over 30 years. He now runs a suite of sites including Theatre Breaks and Edinburgh Breaks.

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