Theatre programmes: The great debate

There are two debates that take place in theatre foyers up and down the country every evening. The first concerns wine – do you fork out for an overpriced bottle of pinot grigio before the show or stick to the bottle of water you’ve inevitably smuggled in under your coat? The second takes place at the merchandise stand – and it surrounds the theatre programme.

The theatre programme divides the nation. While some people see a pile of crisp booklets on a desk and lunge for them brandishing cash, others give that same desk the side eye while keeping a look out for a free pamphlet or cast board to tell them who’ll be performing that evening. Yes, it’s true – there are two very different types of theatregoer out there and they’re defined by their programme-buying actions.

A freebie, a programme, a brochure

For those unfamiliar, typically you have either two or three options in most West End theatres.

The first is you can opt not to buy a programme at all. Most theatres will normally display a cast list near the box office, where you’ll be able to see who’s performing that performance and information about any understudies. This is the free option, and if you’re really lucky, there’ll be a leaflet nearby with the information on that you can take away if you want to.

The second option is the programme. This is typically an A5-sized job (great consistency for anyone with a touch of programme OCD) with a mix of show info and adverts. While the adverts have started to take over in recent years, you’ll also find cast info, profiles, a song list and a couple of articles about the show or general theatre news. As they’re produced by the theatres themselves, don’t expect pictures of the musical or play you’re seeing, though. Costs vary, but they’re normally £3 to £4.

Finally, for big expensive shows and musicals there’ll normally be a brochure. This is where the money is made. Costs can vary wildly but expect anything between £6 and £10. Filled with glossy photos, interviews and articles about the show, they can take any shape or form. Often you’ll find that they don’t go into as much depth about the cast (a canny trick to get you to buy the programme and brochure) but they’re nice to have if you want something to keep.

But the question is…

Whether you go for the programme or the brochure what do you do with yours?

  • Let them build up and then have a mass bonfire once you realise that your house is being over-run or that you never look back at them?
  • Dedicate a book case to them and organise them in date order of viewing?
  • Keep each one carefully looked after in plastic sleeves to ensure that in fifty years time when eBay is going strong you’ll get a pretty penny for them?
  • Buy them out of addiction and then keep them in a pile in the corner while you wonder where your money for food has disappeared to this month?
  • Try and keep them nice and orderly while resenting producers for making them in awkward shapes and sizes, thus making them impractical to keep them in any kind of storage.

As for my programmes? Well firstly, I fall into the second category and almost never go for the brochure unless it’s the only option available. Most are kept in a pile in my wardrobe. One day, the intention is they’ll make it onto the book case alongside my National Theatre programmes already in a binder, but the jury is still out.

Let me know which camp you fall into and any programme buying tips in the comments below…

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Dominic Smith says:

    we collect them because years later they bring back hopefully happy memories and at the least it provides fuel for a discussion. Also u might have been at theatre history

    1. Ade John Leader says:

      I’m exactly the same. Love looking back through them and seeing the history of stuff I’ve been to. And nice to take something away from truly amazing performances.

  2. Charlotte says:

    I HAVE to buy a programme whenever I see a show. It’s a good point of reference for talking about/blogging about/explaining the show to elderly relatives who’ll listen later, plus I love to know who I’m seeing in the role, and when names start cropping up in different shows a few years later!

    (Plus I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like showing them off now that I’ve amassed quite a pile!)

    A nice point for discussion!

  3. Hiiii Interval Ice Cream!
    I was wondering how I get in touch with you about your blog?
    I run a group of theatre bloggers, aptly named London Theatre Bloggers or #LDNTheatreBloggers for the purpose of twitter! A) check us out B) I’d love to invite you along to some of our events!
    You can email me at rebecca at officialtheatre dot com 🙂

    Rebecca x

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