Theatre tickets for less: Act 1

A night out at the theatre can be a beautiful thing, but the tickets can be cripplingly expensive, especially if you live in London. Fortunately there are loads of ways to see shows for free or at least at reduced cost – so many, in fact, that I’ll have to start the topic today and come back to it on another occasion.

Without much further ado:

Be an insider (or friends with one). People who work part time or full time in theatres, concert halls and arts centres nearly always get free or discounted tickets as part of their jobs. Actors are regularly invited to attend performances by directors and other friends, but you don’t have to be a well-connected thesp to benefit – ushers are often asked to sit at the back of an audience while plays are on, and so are St John Ambulance volunteers, etc.

Get on the list. Sign up for email updates from your favourite venues and theatre companies. They may have ‘early bird’ deals or special offers in their emails. You can also follow them on Twitter, where I’ve recently seen free tickets given away by The Soho Theatre and £5 tickets offered by The Royal Court.

Some nights are cheaper. There’s less demand for tickets on a Monday night, say, so they’re not always as expensive as tickets for the same seats on a Friday. The same often goes for matinee performances. Tickets for the first shows at the start of a run, including preview nights, may be lower priced too, although sometimes there can be ‘teething troubles’ with sets, scripts and so on.

Some seats are cheaper, Part I. Seats at the back of the balcony are cheaper than seats at the front of a dress circle or the stalls. I think it’s nearly always better to have a cheap seat than it is to miss an exciting show completely, but do be warned that some seats have a partially restricted view of the stage, poor acoustics, a vertiginous drop below them or leg room that dates back to when malnourished Brits rarely grew taller than five foot two. It is well worth double-checking potential purchases against the seating plans at theatremonkey.

Some seats are cheaper, Part II. Many theatres have ‘slip seats’, fold-down seats, benches or a little standing area where you can watch for a small fee. They tend to face sideways onto the stage so the view isn’t always perfect, but you can nearly always see and hear enough to know what’s going on at all times. They might also have an added bonus – sometimes people in the expensive seats nearby don’t turn up, so if seats near an aisle remain empty 20 minutes after the show’s started then you can often discreetly slip into them. For seats in the middle of a row, wait until the interval and be as polite as possible if you’re trying to blag your way into them (you haven’t paid for the new seats and aren’t legally entitled to sit in them).

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I’ll come back to it soon with more cheap theatre ideas. If you have any insider knowledge of your own, please spill the beans in the comments below.

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