Opinion: How to see theatre on the cheap... the 12 commandments

05 Feb
Posted in: Features
Author: Susan Brett

Struggling to see some of the great theatre that's out there this year? Here, StageFaves guest blogger Susan Brett looks at the 12 ways you can get some great deals on tickets...

It's hard to know where to start with obtaining cheap theatre tickets, and easy to get swindled out of your hard-earned cash for the promise of “premium” seating with no discernible difference to elsewhere in the auditorium. Naming no names, of course. We all know about the TKTS Booth in Leicester Square, but that has the disadvantage of having to visit Leicester Square. What other options are there? We’ve compiled a list of the best strategies for grabbing cheap theatre tickets in London.

1. Ticket lotteries

Always check if a show you want to see offers a ticket lottery. These lotteries may take place daily in person, weekly online, or else daily by an app. For a very reasonable price, one can score some of the best seats in the theatre. The chances of winning a ticket lottery vary from show to show; so don’t rely on one as the sole way to get tickets for any sold out shows. In theory, nothing is impossible (even if the £10 Hamilton Lottery feels like it).

2. Day seats

Day seats are more reliable, if you don’t mind queuing in the cold for hours. Many theatres will hold back reduced-price seats for the first few people at the Box Office on the day of performance – and these seats are generally fantastic value. 

The amount of time you’ll spend queuing depends on the show. For a mega-hit, queuing from the ungodly hours of the morning is a must. For others, it’s fine to rock up anytime during the day. The good thing is if you arrive at the theatre to come face to face with a huge queue, you can at least go home and back to bed. The other people waiting in the queues are often pretty cool, too.

3. Rush tickets

Some theatres hold a weekly rush sale for cheap tickets, while others may offer rush tickets daily using an app like TodayTix. The Royal Court offers £12 tickets on Mondays at 9am for the day of performance, while the National Theatre offers £20 tickets on Fridays at 1pm (prepare to do battle with the randomised queue on this one). Rush tickets are fantastic, because all they depend on is the speed with which you access the tickets. I like to get in the office early to take advantage of the super-speed Internet when I’m hoping to grab rush tickets, which also has the bonus of looking diligent in front of my boss.

4. Young person tickets

In some theatres, cheaper rates are available to those under the age of 25 (and sometimes 30). These might have to be booked in a different way to standard tickets, such as by phone, so it’s always worth finding out what you can get by being blessed with youth. Some of the most prominent theatres that offer these discounts include the National Theatre, Royal Court Theatre and the Almeida. One big name musical, Matilda, also does, but you’ll have to be in the first ten in line at the Box Office (with ID) at 10am on the day of the performance to bag one.

5. Tactical dates

It sounds uncouth to suggest it, but if a show’s not selling well, it can be easy to buy cheap theatre tickets and get upgraded. This isn’t a tactic that has a 100% success rate, but occasionally buying cheap upper circle tickets for an unpopular day will get you upgraded to a better value seat. The best performance to try this is the midweek matinee, and sometimes the Monday evening also works. Not to mention, if the theatre’s only half full, you might be able to sneakily move seats.

6. Buy really early

If you’ve got some far-off date in mind, buying tickets far in advance will give you the widest choice of seats. This is when the cheaper seats in the choicer locations usually get sold. Some shows, such as The Book of Mormon, even offer a discount for early bookings. If you book the show more than eight weeks in advance, there are no booking fees, which is handy.

7. Buy really late

The alternative to being the organised early bird is to be the last minute bargain grabber. This option has mixed success depending on the show, so don’t be too picky over what you see. Some shows, big names included, will slash the prices of their remaining seats as the date of the performance grows closer. These reduced seats might be available online or shortly before the performance at Box Office. Again, the best day to go for is a day that will likely be undersubscribed. Since the tickets that are least likely to sell out before the show tend to be the higher-priced premium seats, there may be some impressive discounts.

8. Restricted view 

Restricted view seats can be hit or miss, and it’s important to be aware of this when booking a restricted view seat. In some theatres, restricted view means the patron will be unable to see a small portion of the stage. For others, visibility may be minimal. Always check a seat comparison website like TheatreMonkey, which includes pictures and reviews of various seats, for an idea of what the visibility will be like. To grab these cheap seats, contact the Box Office directly and ask for “restricted view” seats. These are sometimes sold online but may only be available in person.

9. Social media updates

Follow, follow, follow theatres on social media. I’d even go so far as to say put your favourite theatre accounts’ tweets on push notifications. They’ll notify you of any upcoming ticket releases (so you’ll get a chance to grab a cheapie) and also if any performances have ongoing discounts. My favourite deal was bagging a £125-value ticket to see A Christmas Carol (okay, I know, not a musical) at the Old Vic for only £5. It only happened because I had The Old Vic on notifications.

10. Seat-filling websites

Seat filling websites, such as Audience Club, are almost always worthwhile. How they work is pretty self-explanatory. After a (long) period of being on a waiting list you’ll get access to some fantastic shows for completely free. It’s a rule to never, ever mention the seat-filling service inside the theatre – but do, if you can, post all about the show on social media. A tweet costs nothing, after all.

11. Become a friend of the theatre

Some theatres offer friendship schemes, which mean that for a small annual donation, patrons can get early access to ticket releases, discounted seats and exclusive freebies. This is also a fantastic strategy for grabbing tickets for a big name show that is likely to sell out the moment ticket sales open to the general public. Avoid virtually standing in a soul-destroying queue by becoming a friend of the theatre and receiving stress-free early access to sales. If membership is a bit steep, you can even split the cost between your friends (although I recommend nominating the most moral friend as the named account holder).

12. Start blogging

If you’re an Alexander Hamilton in the making and can make or break someone with just your pen (or keyboard) then try blogging. Blogs that reach a certain audience size may suddenly attract theatre publicists (and if none come flocking, it doesn’t hurt to send an emailing informing them politely of your readership). You might just manage to acquire free theatre tickets for the promise of a review in exchange (which absolutely doesn’t have to be complimentary, if you never want tickets again).

- Written by Susan Brett for StageFaves