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The Value of Free Seats

July 10, 2013

An article last week by the excellent Mark Shenton on ticket prices referenced one by The Independent’s Tom Sutcliffe Tom Sutcliffe in which a reader questions whether reviewers value the (increasingly expensive) free tickets they are given, and whether it influences reviews that are written.

My personal feeling is “yes” to the first, and “no” to the second. I’m lucky enough to receive a few now myself and, when I receive an invitation, I treat it with utmost respect. That is, making sure I use the tickets I accept, arrive on time and stay for the entire performance, giving it my full attention throughout – and I expect that of those who use my “guest” ticket too. It’s also good manners to buy a programme or something at the theatre, but that’s by the by.

Does it affect my opinion? No, never. It’s unprofessional, of course, to write a personal attack on anybody, but to state why I dislike a performance in a reasonable fashion is perfectly fine, and everybody is entitled to their tastes. Of course, I do try to put personal feelings aside and provide a rational balanced opinion where possible. I also always think, “well, would I have paid to see this?!”

True, I admit I don’t get the “wasted both my time AND money” feeling to the extent that I might if I’d paid full price – but my time is still important to me, and tube fares and programmes aren’t that cheap. So those feelings are still there, and amplified by the “I could have been seeing something else” thing too. On the plus side, it’s great if I feel I can highlight something new… or prevent others wasting their money.

Possibly it’s also worth saying that for me a “working” visit is very different from a “personal choice” one. You don’t get to choose the show, date or seat location, must stay to the bitter end – courtesy and because you could find the last 10 minutes make the rest suddenly make sense – and never fall asleep even if you did start at 8am and it’s now gone midnight.

Just to finish on a general note, I feel that to build to a point where you are offered tickets takes time, so most know what it’s like to pay. And personally, I think it adds to the addiction enough that you pay more in the end to see extra stuff anyway !

So, all in all, yes, I for one can’t think of a greater privilege – one for which I’m always very grateful.

  1. Sarah permalink
    July 10, 2013 10:22 am

    I also receive free tickets on occasion ( sadly not for London) – I always appreciate them ..and indeed the free programme that accompanies them ! I tend to watch a show with different priorities if I am reviewing .. I take more notice of the direction, costume and set design than I would if I was just watching a show for “pleasure!” The guidelines given for reviewing mean that my reviews written in exchange for free tickets are not written in my own style to an extent ( I do love an exclamation mark in my day to day writing !!) Curiously I find myself sitting with my teenage daughter , who looks at me incredulously as I say “Dont you think the lighting is exceptional” ! So.. I think that it gives us an obligation to notice parts of the show that we would not ordinarily take any notice of – I do wonder though if the people reading the reviews really care about the set design and the lighting – most just want to know if the show is entertaining !

  2. July 13, 2013 6:05 pm

    I agree, it’s a privilege to receive free ticktes, and i’m always thankfull when producers also send an invitation with the plus one option! i always ask myself questions which are also mentioned in your article! and, i have paid a large amount for theatre tickets in my whole life. and i never stopped paying for them, only because i’ve got some free ticktes (to write reviews).
    thanks for saying thats still an privilege to get free ones, most people think its a normal business for reviewers!

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      July 15, 2013 12:17 pm

      You are right, Martin, free tickets are never “normal,” I always believe. A mixture of paying and invitations keeps a good balance too.

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