Daytripping · Out and about · Theatre

How to book London Theatre tickets on a budget

It seems to be accepted wisdom that going to see a play in London will cost you an astronomical amount of money. Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s not always the case. Yes if you want to sit in the stalls to see the latest musical you may find your ticket will cost you £60 or so, but if you want to see a play, are happy to sit a little further back or book early then you will find the cost of the experience isn’t quite as horrific as expected…

Be prepared to get addicted

Plays i've seen

Over the last two years my best friend and I have booked tickets for 17 theatre productions in London (most pictured above), starring quite well-known names, for an average of £22 a ticket (including Cumberbatch Hamlet tickets at £80 each. Eek!). Tickets for 12 of those shows cost £20 or less each and where we’ve spent more than £20 it has been the blame of Hamlet or because we decided to treat ourselves to better seats.

So how can you get cheap tickets? Here’s my advice…

14 TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY WHEN BUYING YOUR TICKETS

Theatre seating
photo credit: Theatre Seating via photopin (license)

1. Book early

This isn’t always necessary (apart for high demand shows) but you tend to get a better choice of dates and seats. Those £10 tickets are going to be the first to go! So sign up for those mailing lists and get your credit card ready…

2. Catch the previews

Tickets for preview shows are often cheaper then the later performances as the production is still being worked on prior to the official opening night. The Old Vic offer a £10 ticket scheme for their previews.

3. Avoid Friday and Saturday nights

Theatre tickets aren’t always the same price and tend to be more expensive on a Friday or Saturday night. If you can make a Wednesday matinee, then great. but if not a Saturday matinee is your best option. That way you can get the train back on the same day too!

4. Don’t worry where you sit

My number one bit of advice would be to not worry about sitting at the back (unless you’re scared of heights that is). My rule is ‘Better to be there and sit at the back than not go at all’. Most of the time you can see the whole stage anyway, it’s just that you might miss the very top of the scenery or have to lean over a bar!

Use seat review websites such as Theatre Monkey to work out which seats offer good value for money. Does a £20 seat really provide a view worth double the cost of the £10 seat right next to it? Probably not. I use these sites to try and find cheapest seats with the most amount of leg room!

5. Don’t be afraid to go on your own or to sit separately

Often you can look through seating plans and see odd seats here and there. You might not be able to get £10 tickets together but you might be able to separately. I saw Frost/Nixon with Michael Sheen by picking up a £10 seat on its lonesome, plus I had a great day in London too.

6. Ticket offers

There are lots of ticket offers around and you can find these by signing up for mailing lists and checking lastminute.com but lots of individual theatre’s have their own offer schemes too:

The National Theatre’s Travelex £15 tickets scheme.

PwC £10 Previews at the Old Vic

Trafalgar Transformed ran a £15 Monday’s scheme for their recent shows including Richard III, East is East and The Ruling Class.

7. Under 26?

What’s on Stage have a great list of 16 ways for young people to get free or cheap tickets.

8. On the day

If you haven’t booked in advance and don’t mind what you see, you can always try the TKTS ticket booth on Leicester Square for last minute discounts. You can also sometimes pick up day seats from the Theatre Box Office’s on the day of the performance. Be prepared to queue for both of these though.

9. Save money on postage

If the ticket booking site offers the option to pick up the tickets at the box office or print them off instead then do this and save a couple of quid on postage. You then don’t have to worry about losing the tickets either! Some theatres do offer free postage though.

10. Agree a budget

Only buy tickets for what you can afford. Make sure you agree a maximum cost up front with anyone else you are booking tickets for.

Setting a limit on the number of times a month you go and the cost of tickets helps. My friend and I have a once a month and £20 ticket rule. Occassionally we agree to spend a bit more (ahem, CumberHamlet) or if we want to sit closer because of our love for Martin Freeman (totally worth it).

11. Stand at the Globe just as Shakespeare would have wanted

You can stand in the Yard at Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside for just £5. Not great if it is raining as you can’t take a brolly but dress in layers, wear some comfortable shoes and you’ll be set. If you can’t face standing then seated tickets are available from £17.

12. Live in London?

Try the Audience Club if you live in London. You join by donating £5 to their chosen charity and then you get access to free tickets for shows across London. They just ask that you tell people if you liked the show and maybe buy a programme or drink at the theatre.

13. Free performances on Trafalgar Square

West End LIVE is a free annual event in Trafalgar Square with performances from some of the most popular musicals. This year’s event featured Les Mis, Matilda, Gypsy and lots more. It’s a very busy event though so be prepared to queue and prepare for the weather!

14. Enter competitions

Websites, newspapers, retailers – lots of places offer competitions for theatre tickets all the time. Why not try your luck? I won tickets to Handbagged this way. Check if they specify a certain performance date though.

BOOKING FOR HIGH DEMAND POPULAR SHOWS

Booking queue for Hamlet tickets
Queue for Hamlet tickets. Image from Elle UK

For most shows, buying tickets aren’t a problem. You work out what to see, when to go and where to sit and there you go. However, what do you do when the show is in high demand and is likely to sell out?

Here are five hints and tips based on my experience of several day-of-release scrabbles for tickets:

1. Buy tickets on the first day of release

Signing up for mailing lists can help with finding out when tickets go on sale. Some theatres tend to be quite secretive with their on sale dates.

If you’re forgetful like me, don’t forget to set yourself a reminder too!

2. The early bird gets the worm

So the website says tickets go on sale at 10am… and most of the time that’s exactly when the tickets will go on sale BUT it is worth checking early just in case.

I’ve occasionally managed to book tickets half an hour or so before their official on sale time (English National Opera, Young Vic, Barbican). Some websites seem to ‘accidentally’ switch on booking a bit early.

3. The more the better

In the most difficult of ticket battles I have been know to have the ticket booking page open on multiple browsers on multiple devices (my phone, iPad, computer) and don’t forget you can call the box office too. When tickets went on sale for CumberHamlet, the website went crazy with huge queues but someone I know got pretty much straight through on the phone.

4. Know which seats to avoid

Have Theatre Monkey loaded in a tab and ready to go for when you need to make those instant decisions on seat choices.

5. Become a member

A number of theatres and organisations offer membership schemes of varying quality. These can be useful to get discounts and access to priority booking. I would recommend only signing up for these if you book with that theatre/organisation regularly though as you need to get good value for money.

I signed up for the Barbican’s membership scheme (£50) specifically to access early booking for CumberHamlet which was great but I also managed to use it for priority booking for Richard II and free access to an exhibition at the Barbican. Make sure you try and use all the benefits.

I also signed up for the ATG theatre card. The £30 card gives discounts and benefits at a large number of theatres nationwide but I was disappointed as I never received the promised priority booking email for Trafalgar Transformed’s Richard III and you just got the same benefits as those who had signed up for the Trafalgar Transformed mailing list. Disappointing.

Mailing lists

A Little Bird email newsletter
A Little Bird email newsletter

Mailing lists are a great way to find out about upcoming productions, ticket on sale dates and offers. Here are some I find useful:

Google Alerts

If there’s a specific production you want to find out when tickets are on sale for, or a specific actor you want to see on stage, it can be handy to give Google Alerts a try. I had Google alerts set up for ‘Cumberbatch + Hamlet’ to get the latest about tickets sent straight to my inbox.

Other ways to see great theatre

National Theatre Live

Can’t get to London or fancy seeing theatre elsewhere, try these:

1. Check out live screenings at cinemas nationwide

The National Theatre and the RSC are the leaders in this. Sceptical at first I’m now a convert. Screenings at cinemas are a fantastic way to see live (and sometimes repeated ‘encore’) theatre without the expense of travelling to London. The screenings often let you look behind the scenes (one ballet screening I went to showed the dancers warming up seconds before the curtain went up!) and provide interesting interviews with directors, actors and writers. The camera angle is never static instead offering close ups on the actors faces and wider shots of the set, allowing you to actually benefit from not being at the theatre.

The tickets are a little more expensive than cinema tickets but it is still great value for money. Even more so if you have a Cineworld Unlimited card which knocks around £10 off the price.

2. Catch up with great theatre on your computer

Missed a show? You can now rent and buy copies of certain plays to watch at home with Digital Theatre. Their catalogue includes theatre, opera, dance and classical music. You can watch David Tennant and Catherine Tate bicker as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing or watch plays performed at Shakespeare’s Globe amongst many others.

My pick of their current collection is The Crucible, starring Richard Armitage which is incredibly well-performed and gripping.

3. Use the National Theatre archives

OK, so this one is London-based but other than travel it is free. The National Theatre Archive contains recordings of many of their productions. Anyone can visit the archive by booking an appointment and specifying which production they wish to watch.

I visited the archive to watch ‘After the Dance‘ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and I found it to be a great experience. A member of staff met me and set me up on a Mac in the Archive with the play already loaded and ready to go. They also brought over a collection of archive materials related to the play – the script, programme, rehearsal notes and more. It was absolutely fascinating.

4. Theatre doesn’t just happen in London

Don’t forget about your local theatre’s who will often offer original productions as well as host touring shows.

1984 which is currently a very popular show in the West End, started off at my local theatre, Nottingham Playhouse. On a side note, you should definitely see 1984 if you get the chance – an intense, gripping and unforgettable piece of theatre.

You should also add a trip to a Shakespeare play at the RSC in Stratford to your to do list. Plus Stratford is a beautiful town with lots to see and do.

What are your tips for seeing theatre on a budget?

Next week I’ll be blogging about travelling to London on a budget

7 thoughts on “How to book London Theatre tickets on a budget

  1. Wow, Emma! This is a fantastic post. I’ve not been to much theatre in London (although I have been a groundling at the globe “as Shakespeare intended” hee hee), but alot of this advice applies to gigs as well. Just brilliant. I’m bookmarking this for future use! love b.x

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