The cost of the west end: The top 10 most expensive shows in London

This week has been an interesting one. While many of us tried desperately to get our hands on tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre at a price that was advertised as for being for two plays (but that we all knew secretly was just one with a long interval), just up the road in the Dominion, Elf the Musical opened. Lauded by many as the most expensive musical in London, Elf has had many asking whether or not ticket prices are spiralling out of control. And with a top price of £240, it’s had me questioning to what extent prices are becoming unaffordable, which west end shows really are the most expensive overall, and what the average price is.

To give me an idea of the average price of the west end, I have taken a selection of theatres in central London. All are major west end houses with a mixture of musicals and plays showing. Then using the shows’ main booking sites I’ve worked out the total number of seats in each price band (not including booking fees), and used this to create the average for the show. For consistency and to avoid issues around dynamic pricing as far as possible, all figures are based on the same date in the calendar – 7th November, evening performance – and it does not include discounted sales, concessions and group tickets. And while every effort has been made to make this as accurate as possible, apologies for any errors.

So what is the most expensive show in London?

It’s safe to say that there were a wide variety of prices across the 28 shows that I looked at. Yes, there were plenty of cheaper tickets (10,837 were below £50), but there were also a huge number of premium tickets (4197 seats were above £90) – many shows now with multiple bands of premium. To put the below into context, across the 32,241 seats included in the calculations, the average price came out at a whopping £62.25 – that’s £42.12 above the average quoted in a recent Telegraph article. So leading the way in stripping us of our hard-earned cash are:

  1. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre), £97.97 – This was by far the highest priced show on average, although does significantly reduce its prices during midweek performances. However, on a Saturday, with a top price premium price of £200.25 and only a handful of tickets under £50 (62 of them…) it’s the biggest offender of dynamic pricing.
  2. Elf (Dominion Theatre), £76.76 – Quite a way behind the singing Mormons, but Elf charges more than the former midweek, and premium prices do increase on some dates to a massive £240. Don’t let the £20 difference fool you into thinking it’s more affordable either. Bear in mind that with a staggering average of over £75, that’s more than the cost of a top price ticket for most shows across the capital.
  3. The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre), £73.45 – It’s been running for years now, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. And with peak pricing in effect, in the chosen weekend this came out at almost as much as Elf, with premium (£139) and lowest (£37.50) prices to match.
  4. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre), £68.52 – Opening last year to rave reviews, Beautiful is plodding under the radar, but with stalls and dress circle seats almost entirely in the premium brackets, it’ll set you back a pretty penny.
  5. The Winter’s Tale (Garrick Theatre), £65.97 – With Judi Dench and a string of stars treading the boards once more as part of the Kenneth Branagh season, this was never going to be cheap, and at over £65 this is the highest ranking play on the list.
  6. Miss Saigon (Prince Edward Theatre), £65.12 – There are rumours that for the most part this is heavily discounting, but with a RRP of £65.12 it’s still one of the more expensive musicals in the west end – well, helicopter fuel must cost a fair bit.
  7. Les Miserables (Queens Theatre), £63.99 – Ever since the numerous anniversary celebrations and the hit(ish) film, Les Miserables has enjoyed a second coming in popularity. Selling out most nights, it has plenty of decently priced tickets at the lower ends, but still averages out in the mid-£60s.
  8. Jersey Boys (Piccadilly Theatre), £63.59 – Still bringing in the tourist crowd and after a move to the Piccadilly, Jersey Boys is going strong. There’s a nice range of prices across the theatre, but a hefty chunk of top price tickets keep it in the top 10.
  9. Photograph 51 (Noel Coward Theatre), £62.50 – Only just above the west end average, Nicole Kidman’s latest outing on the stage has led to some very high premium prices. That said, with over a fifth of tickets at a mere £10 (the lowest price across all those measured in this exercise), it still remains affordable on the whole.
  10. Gypsy (Savoy Theatre), £62.21 – Taking the last spot on the top ten is Imelda Staunton’s turn as Momma Rose, with a slightly below average score thanks to a good range of prices across the auditorium.

And the rest…

Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre) £61.50; Sunny Afternoon (Harold Pinter Theatre) £61.05; Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre) £60.83; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) £59.69; Mamma Mia (Novello Theatre) £59.69; Matilda (Cambridge Theatre) £59.32; Farinelli and the King (Duke of York’s Theatre) £59.14; Wicked (Apollo Victoria Theatre) £58.11; Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace Theatre) £57.98; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Gielgud Theatre) £56.59; Thriller! Live (Lyric Theatre) £56.59; Mr Foote’s Other Leg (Theatre Royal, Haymarket) £52.28; The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty’s Theatre) £51.39; The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess Theatre) £44.72; The Father (Wyndham’s Theatre) £43.47; The Woman in Black (Fortune Theatre) £42.31; Showstopper! The Improvised Musical (Apollo Theatre) £40.64; Mousetrap (St Martin’s Theatre) £39.08

And about that figure in the Telegraph – £20.13

I’ve no doubt that the figure was based on something far more scientific than someone sitting with a calculator counting seating plans, but to claim it’s the average price seems a bit ludicrous and misleading to the uninformed theatregoer. To put it into context, of the seats looked at, only 1263 were underneath £20.13; that’s 1263 out of 32,241, or 3.9%. Now if someone could let me know where the rest are hiding, I’d love to know.

Thoughts on prices in the west end? Do you think they are spiralling out of control? What do you think the average will be next year? Leave comments in the box below.

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