7 ways to get a cheap seat at the theatre

I often get asked how I can afford to go to the theatre so often when the prices are so high. And there’s little wonder, when all you hear about in the press are premium prices, theatre not being affordable and the latest productions setting you back £200 a pop.

In fact there have been a few high profile productions lately, including Gary Barlow’s The Girls, that have purposefully made a point of stating all the ticket prices on the marketing so that it’s clear a range of seats are on offer. You have to hand it to them, it’s a good way of pulling in the punters, and in a West End that seems to be churning through productions faster than ever before, and an audience who seem less willing to experiment, it would be great for more producers to be that open. (One imagines those producers aren’t because they are hiding the fact that prices are creeping up.)

But how is it possible to get a decent priced seat that won’t break the bank? Here are 7 ways to get a cheap seat at the theatre.

1. Never buy from a third party.

It stands to reason that third parties cost more – they get allocated tickets to sell by the theatre, and in order to make a profit they slap a healthy booking fee on top. Some of these booking fees can be anything up to about 20% of the ticket price, which if you’re a family of 4 can mean you’re paying an extra £100 in fees. It’s completely unnecessary to use those agencies and so you should avoid at all costs.  Unfortunately they are also the ones who pay a small fortune to be higher in the listings on Google and so a lot of unsuspecting ticket buyers end up using them.

Instead of giving your hard-earned money to resale sites, it’s best to always seek out the primary ticket vendor (which is often the company that the theatre belongs to) or give the box office a call. Some don’t include any fees at all, and others have a flat fee of £1-£2 per ticket or per transaction which is far more reasonable.

The other thing to bear in mind is the theatre vendor or box office will always have more tickets (and often a larger range of ticket prices) on sale, so if the show you want to see looks sold out on Ticketmaster or cheaplondontheatrethatcostsanarmandaleg.com, you might be surprised by how many seats are actually left when you find the theatre company’s website.

2. Don’t be afraid of restricted view seats

While cheaper seats often have poorer views, pretty much every theatre I’ve been to has some good seats hidden away at good prices. Ok not every restricted view seat has a passable view (I’ve been stuck behind a pillar wider than a door a couple of times) but if you’re careful, it is possible to find a bargain – see point 3 for ways to be careful. A good one to look out for are seats near the front of the stalls but off to the side.

Particularly in larger theatres, they are often in a lower price band to take account of the fact that you can’t see the nearest side of the stage, but as most theatre is played down stage (near the front) that’s rarely a problem. I’ve often been sat in a side stalls seat with a perfectly good view knowing the person next to me has paid three times as much for exactly the same experience.

3. Use Theatremonkey and SeatPlan

So how do you know which restricted view and cheaper seats are worth going for? Enter Theatremonkey.com and SeatPlan.com

Theatremonkey has been around for a good few years now and effectively provides advice on a theatre-by-theatre basis of the best places to sit, the biggest bargains and clearest views. Each theatre includes a seating plan, ranking seats red, white or green, depending on their value for money, and there’s even a plan showing the overall pricing structure of the auditorium and where the cheap seats are hidden away.

SeatPlan does less in the way of discussing pricing, but it’s big benefit is that it is user generated and includes photos from the seats themselves – to give visitors an idea of what they’ll be able to see on the day. The site is far newer and is still building up it’s database of photos but if it doesn’t have the seat you’re looking for, there will often be a photo from a nearby seat to help you get a good idea of what to expect.

4. There are seats for every budget (if you aren’t picky)

The truth of the matter is that there are seats for every budget. Even in the upcoming Hamilton, where the front of the upper circle has hit the frankly astronomical £89, there are restricted view side seats that only cost £20. Yes, there aren’t many of them so it’s very much on a first come, first served basis, but the opportunity is there.

It’s worth bearing in mind that giving the theatre box office a call and explaining your budget is worth a shot. Some box offices have seats that they’ll hold back until nearer the time or that need a little more explanation – theatre boxes are a good example of these, as the theatre will often want to explain about the restrictions of the side view before selling them. Phantom of the Opera is a great example, where they seem to prioritise unrestricted view seats, and once they have sold out, the numerous restricted view seats (there are a lot of pillars in that place!) go on sale.

5. Have a few shows in mind

While everyone wants to see the latest big release, it’s worth having a few shows in mind – you’ve got more chance of finding both availability and a decent price. It also means you can start to explore offers. The most popular shows don’t do offers – fact – and so you’re not going to find a half price ticket for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this side of 2030. However, as shows run for longer and need to do more to bring in the crowds, offers do start to crop up.

Here’s where I contradict my earlier point about using third party websites. While a full price ticket should always be purchased from the primary vendor, offers are rarely sold by them, and you’ll need to do a bit of searching. The offers section of the Theatremonkey website does a great job of giving a run-through of the latest deals available so is a good starting point. Another personal favourite is LOVEtheatre.com which tends to run a lot of flash sales offering very cheap prices for a specific show if you buy within a set 24-48 hour period.

One thing to keep an eye out for is the fabled ‘No Booking Fee’ offer. This is not an offer, just the ticket agency removing their fee to make the ticket price in line with what is on sale at the theatre.

6. Try a day seat or a lottery

Day seats are typically seats reserved by the theatre that only go on sale on the day of the actual performance. Lotteries are typically run by either the theatre or through the TodayTix phone app and allow you to enter your name for free, with a selection of those names drawn at random.  Both options provide seats in a very good part of the theatre (front row is the most common) and they sell for about the £20-£30 mark.

Obviously with both there’s no guarantee of getting a seat (people often line up from the night before the performance for very popular day seat queues) so it’s a bit of a gamble, and many schemes have a cap on the number of tickets you can purchase (typically 2) so it’s not really covenient for larger groups.

7. Resort to the TKTS booth

The TKTS booth has long been the go-to for many a theatre fan looking for a good deal. Situated in Leicester Square, it’s the one that looks vaguely official in its own building in the centre rather than one of the places with dodgy 10-year-old posters outside. Unlike the aforementioned dodgy ones, it is often used by theatres to sell last minute reduced price seats. But unlike lotteries and day seats there are far more tickets available.

As with other offers, you won’t typically see the biggest shows listed (or if you do they’ll be at full price) but for anything else you can typically expect to save about 30%-50%. If you’re planning on going to the booth, it’s worth checking out their website TKTS.co.uk beforehand as they list availability and prices the day before – you’ll just need to bear in mind that availability might change if they sell all of their allocation before you get there.

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