West End: Top Tips for London Theatregoers
Keno Katsuda has stumbled across the old “I wanna see that show, but I’m not a millionaire” one too many times. She learnt how to get cheap tickets the hard way, so you don’t have to.
As a theatre aficionado, I primarily moved to London to imbibe its great theatre culture. Fortunately, many theatres have great schemes for finding cheap tickets for students and young people. Unfortunately, I ended up seeing so many shows in my first year that I ended up spending a ton of money anyway. Here are some tips and tricks that I have learned from my theatregoing experiences.
1. Understand that theatre in London is not limited to the West End.
Too many people think that once they’ve seen Wicked and Les Miserables, they’ve seen everything London theatre has to offer. While there are many great shows on the West End, many Off or Off Off West End shows are arguably as good, if not better. Furthermore, many Off West End shows will later transfer to the West End, so catching a show earlier may be cheaper than waiting.
2. Buy standing tickets or restricted view seats.
If they’re available, standing tickets are often a cheap way of seeing many popular shows. The Globe famously offers tickets for their “Groundlings” for £5, plus you get to enjoy an experience that has hardly changed at all in 500 years, and the Donmar sells twenty £7.50 standing tickets for each of their performances. (If you’re lucky, the ushers at the Donmar will sometimes move standing audience members to open seats in the audience before the performance starts.) Restricted view tickets can also be very cheap, but this can be a hit or miss. I once bought a “highly restricted view” ticket at a West End show, and ended up staring at a column that was blocking my view for most of two hours.
3. Check discounts for students and young people.
I’ve made the mistake in the past of buying tickets for full prices. Many theatres are in fact incredibly generous with their youth programmes, selling tickets for the best seats in the house for very cheap. The Menier Chocolate Factory sells £10 tickets through their Golden Tickets scheme for 16 – 21 year olds, and the Old Vic sells 100 tickets to each performance for £12 for under 25s.
4. Find weekly theatre discounts.
Some theatres run weekly theatre discount schemes online or through their box offices. The Donmar Warehouse sells £10 front row seats for performances two weeks in advance every Monday, and the Royal Court sells all of their seats for £10 every Monday. These tend to sell out very quickly (usually in minutes), so check for what times their sales will start and click and refresh quickly!
5. Follow theatres on Twitter.
Oftentimes, theatres will run promotions or lotteries for cheap or free tickets on Twitter. Additionally, you can sometimes catch them tweeting if there are last minute returns available at their box offices. Being social media savvy really can save you time and money!
6. Learn through the National Theatre.
The National Theatre has great youth programmes that often come with free tickets for their productions. Watch some great performances at the National and learn from experienced theatre professionals on the same day. These are particularly great for anyone who want to hone their skills in the theatre to begin their careers.
7. Watch preview performances.
Previews are generally cheaper than seeing shows after their reviews are published. That means there are no guarantees regarding the quality of the show, but sometimes that’s part of the fun.
8. Be patient.
Don’t be afraid to queue or wait for the lotto for big tickets in prime seats. The Book of Mormon runs a lottery two hours before each performance, to sell £20 tickets in the front row. Other big names including Wicked and Miss Saigon sell cheaper front row tickets from their box office each morning. It’s often helpful to call the theatre or visit in advance to ask how long queues will be for prime, cheap seats. Theatres will also sell cheaper tickets to fill their seats if you check their box offices closer to the start of performances.
These methods will usually find you great tickets for under £15 or £20. Good luck!