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Novelty Seats

March 28, 2012

Last week I saw “Singin’ In The Rain.” Thanks to some changes to sightlines, the original seats I booked were changed for central row B stalls – the “Splash Zone.” To answer the obvious first: yes, I got very wet indeed thanks… but that wasn’t half as bad as having the rest of the audience laughing at our plight, both at the time and during the interval. Particularly hurtful were the comments from the rest of my party, safely tucked away in the dress circle. But moving on…

Interestingly, those five rows of seats are pretty much ‘sold out’ first at the theatre. There’s nothing that great about the view – you miss the floor of the stage and dancers’ feet, plus the most central “day seats” have no legroom at all. Still, folk are standing in line to sit there. Maybe the theatre should simply turn the sprinkler system on the rest of the audience and have done.

Still, it got me thinking about all the other “novelty” seats that exuded (and sometimes continue to exude) an unlikely hold on ticket buyer affections.

The most obvious was the much missed “stalls moving platform” at “Cats.” This moved about 270 degrees in the space of 3 minutes at the start of the show… and never moved again. The front row and rear blocks had pretty lousy views of the stage (and were heavily discounted by the end of the run)… yet again they sold out first. Both my first and last visits to the show were here, and I guess you had to take the ‘puddy tat ride’ just once to be a proper “Cats” fan.

I guess it was the appeal of being ‘in the show.’ That, of course reaches its ultimate in the form of ‘stage seats’ – particularly when the audience is conscripted into the action. I can boast that I acted with Ian McKellen at the National Theatre on “opening night” thanks to stage seats at “Coriolanus” in the 1980s.

Expecting just a cheap seat, the audience rolled up to find themselves seated on the steps of a Roman Amphitheatre. At the start of the run (later abandoned, yes folks, I saw that twice from there as it was so cheap) we were handed ‘scripts’ and told when we needed to shout / come down from our seats to mingle with the actors as marketplace folk / stand and applaud / be senators etc. They modified it as the run went on, but still, my one and only West End review reads, “sheep.” We were, but it was cheap and even when the rest of the theatre was empty, those seats were sold.

We won’t of course forget those seats “under” the stage. When the front of the stage is extended, it’s possible a ticket in the front row will come with a chin-rest. If you can wave goodbye to your body for a couple of hours, you could do worse.

There are more conventional seats that have quirks but still appeal, of course. Particular boxes like Box G at the Palace Theatre or Box C at the Vaudeville are filled nightly with Theatremonkey readers who buy all the seats at a low price and enjoy a little privacy away from less refined theatregoers. The lack of view more than makes up for it.

Side slips – particularly the ends at the Noel Coward and those that contain normal chairs rather than fixed seats at the Aldwych also prove popular at low prices and for reasonable views.

Then we come to the peculiar seats ‘squeezed in’ to existing architecture. The “nests” in Wyndham’s balcony were made famous by the Theatremonkey book, and now readers worldwide grab them first… with the result that these previously forgotten tickets are often the ones that sell out. I won’t dwell on the strange complaints I now get when that happens – but it is odd.

And that’s the thing, novelty, even in theatre, sells seats. If they are cheap, or even if they are not but add a little “something” to the experience, the fun aspect shifts them. Even better, you are often not paying “premium” prices for something that really isn’t – and that combination of fair price and added value has to be the best thing of all. And of course, for those willing to stand, the “archers’ slots for just 10p at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs have to be the best bargain in the West End. All worth knowing, isn’t it?!

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