Theatre tickets for less: Act 2

If you fancy a cheaper night out at the theatre, here are some more ideas to save you a few pounds.

Some shows are cheaper. Experimental theatre, fringe or amateur productions charge a fraction of West End prices – it’s sometimes pot luck whether you’re going to like it or not though. Track down reviews in the newspapers or theatre websites such as What’s On Stage.

Some locations are cheaper. Many West End shows start out in, or move to, non-West-End theatres. For example, this year’s stage version of Prick Up Your Ears is starting out in Richmond before it moves to central London with the same cast. If you don’t mind a longer journey or you live nearby then you could make some savings.

Theatres don’t like having empty seats. A full house has a better atmosphere, which in turn can influence reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations and future sales. The theatre takes more at its bars and merchandise stalls too. This can mean discounts for you in the rush to put bums on seats.

Seat fillers, Part I: Standby, day and returns tickets. Spare tickets are sold off, usually on the day of the show, often at a large discount, and many theatres also have tickets they deliberately keep back to sell on the day, usually first thing in the morning. The discounts can be much larger for students, pensioners etc. You might only be able to buy one or two tickets, and you might have to pay cash and show your ID. Call the theatre in question to check about likely prices, terms and conditions, and the time the tickets go on sale. Get there early and be prepared to queue.

Returns tickets are the ones that are sent back to a theatre’s box office on the day of the show if they’re unsold by agents, or if the customers who originally bought them find that they’re unable to use them. They’re supposed to go on sale about an hour before the show starts, but in practice you can usually buy them a while before that since it avoids a big rush for the box office staff so everyone’s happy. Please note that these tickets aren’t always guaranteed to be heavily discounted, it depends on the show’s popularity.

Seat fillers, Part II: Official discount booths. If you’re in London, you can get about 50% off same-day tickets at the official TKTS discount booths, plus a £3 handling fee. If you’re first in the queue you get the pick of all the shows. There’s one in Leicester Square and another in Brent Cross Shopping Centre. Check their TKTS website to get an idea of what’s available at the moment. Be warned that there are lots of unofficial ticket booths around Leicester Square, so don’t get confused or you might get ripped off.

Seat fillers, Part III: Late-ticket clubs. In larger cities you may find subscription-based clubs that offer you spare tickets for that night’s performances around town, or with two or three days’ notice. You can check their offers every morning and snap up tickets on a first-come-first served basis, paying only a couple of pounds or so for a handling fee. The annual subscription is likely to cost around £40-£50, but key workers sometimes pay less. You have to be prepared to make space in your evening plans then and there, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be certain of getting exactly the tickets you want, but if you just love going out to the theatre on a regular basis then this system might work for you. You might like to try The Audience Club out.

Seat fillers, Part IV: Papering the house. If a show is selling really badly then tickets may very quietly get distributed for free. If you’re offered one of these tickets, first of all ask yourself why the show’s selling so badly: hunt around for reviews to help you decide whether to take up the offer or not (I truly regretted watching an over-long, badly-acted and darkly-lit production in a cold, draughty theatre one particularly rainy January, even if it cost nowt).

Freebies may be given to schools, colleges or universities if it’s a classic play or standard text. It’s worth checking with employers as well, as large organisations and businesses sometimes get offered free tickets. This is something you find out about by accident or by asking around, so keep an eye on messageboards or emails wherever you work or study.

There are so many other ways to obtain discounts on tickets that I’ll have to come back to it in Act 3. See you after the interval.

If you missed the first part of this article, you can find Act 1 here.

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