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Is Theatre the new “Pop Concert” when it comes to tickets?

May 10, 2017

A remark from a colleague got me thinking, as did a recent indignant exchange on

Both regular readers of this blog will remember that back in January I compiled a page of tips for getting “Hamilton” tickets. A few weeks later, a reader of that page informed me that those same tips helped her get some much sought after “Lady Gaga” tickets at the O2 Arena, simply following the same technique I outlined for the far smaller Victoria Palace Theatre event.

More recently, “Follies” and “Mosquitoes” at the National Theatre left hundreds unhappy that the best seats were gone and many performances “sold out” before the general public got anywhere near them. Even those like myself, who “know the tricks” and have the lowest rung of “priority booking” membership found very little choice. I was lucky on “Follies” with a seat I was pretty happy with; “Mosquitoes,” well, not terrible but not the greatest. Anyway…

I wonder if it all ties in with several articles I’ve read about economists noting we are spending less on items and more on “experiences,” which all the above productions are / will be. If that’s so, there are now more people than ever chasing fewer and fewer tickets. Good for theatres, not so great for the wider public.

Personally, I’m sceptical. The most vocal complainers about “not getting seats” are not regular theatregoers who support a venue, just those chasing “fashion,” I fear. If they “feel slighted because the system is stacked against them” it’s bad for the theatre industry’s image, yes, but rather ignores those who stand by it ‘thick and thin’ in support.

Rather like the fans who follow a group from pub gigs to Wembley Stadium, or football fans team from Hackney Marshes to, well, Wembley Stadium again, maybe us “regulars” are now experiencing the same thing from our plush tip-up seats.

If we are, is there an answer? Rather like pop and football fans, there are “club memberships” to buy, which help a lot gaining access to the best seats first. We can hardly complain about others wanting to join in, because we are not enough to keep a show running long in ourselves… but is it so wrong to wish to be front of the queue as a reward for loyalty?

Perhaps theatres should work a little harder to equalise distribution of tickets, but if there is a way to balance demand from both regulars and newcomers without upsetting one and putting the other partly in the hands of the “secondary market” (ticket touts), I’m not sure that there is. Longer runs, perhaps – hard with a star in the cast – so maybe have a second star ready to take over? Bigger theatres – but they have to be filled when the circus has moved on?

Tricky, and one to ponder, I think.

  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    May 10, 2017 8:57 am

    I totally agree with this. But I have had many people complain to me about not being able to get tickets when they simply weren’t obsessively well-organised enough! Follies was always going to be tricky, especially as the Olivier isn’t as big as many West End theatres. Like you, I had no priority access but I was sitting in front of my computer AND iPad ready for the box office to open at 8.30 last Friday. I also had my phone ready on speed dial (yes, I am obsessive!). I also had Theatre Monkey open (!) and knew what seats I wanted along with dates. At 8.30, the site opened and I was number 697 in the queue (randomly allocated). I was through in 30 minutes and got exactly what I wanted with no problems at all. Similiarly with Hamilton. I’m going to be doing this on Saturday morning to book for John Wilson’s Oklahoma at the Proms. I agree with you that it’s usually those following a fashion are feeling aggrieved – real theatre fans should know by now how the system works!

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      May 10, 2017 9:24 am

      Thanks Francesca.

      I find the same. Those who complain are simply disorganised. I do understand when booking opens during working hours that it isn’t always possible to be there, but many do find a way, I notice.

      The Olivier holds 1160, so about the size of the Adelphi. The difference is a large membership who are ready at 8.30am. I did have the lowest membership, but even with that, there wasn’t much choice on the date I wanted – but I got a lovely single ticket, the only one left, so I was lucky. The line put me about 700 too, but it moved fast – 10 minutes, luckily.

      Hamilton… we don’t discuss, LOL. Fingers crossed for you on the Prom. That one I think I’ll hope for a TV showing.

      Great that you agree about us fans – we have to stick together, LOL.

  2. May 10, 2017 9:42 am

    Yes, I agree with Francesca. Regular dedicated theatre-goers learn how to organise themselves to get tickets for difficult events. Back in the 1960s I was one of a band of hardy opera lovers who used to sleep in Floral Street overnight, and sometimes longer, to buy tickets for performances at the Royal Opera House that would sell out very quickly. That was when a ‘queue’ system operated when numbered queue tickets were handed out at 8 am to the queue outside the Opera House with a time to return later that day to the box office. That was before the ‘Friends’ membership was started, which is how one can now get priority when the big stars appear there, albeit at a hefty annual subscription. I got a fairly good seat for ‘Follies’, even though I no longer have a National Theatre membership, by being online at 8.30 am when the public booking opened. There will always be newcomers who complain when they cannot get tickets for some sold-out events. They just need to spend a bit of time finding out in advance how to prepare themselves to be ready to book early when the next popular event comes along.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      May 10, 2017 10:23 am

      Thanks Tony, and you are right.

      I once got to Wembley Stadium at 4.30am with friends for “Madonna” tickets. In the days before the web, it was the only way to be sure of getting in. At least with membership these days, and online booking, everybody gets a night’s sleep….

      Well done on “Follies,” and you are right, with all the information online, there’s no reason for anyone to miss out if they really want to see something.

      • May 13, 2017 11:00 am

        I was there this morning at 9 am on the online queue at the Royal Albert Hall to book for the John Wilson ‘Oklahoma!’ Prom and I got a pair of excellent seats in what I would describe as Side Stalls but for which I was charged Centre Stalls price. But that’s OK because they are good seats. Just another example of being organised in advance to book for a popular event.


      • Steve Rich permalink*
        May 13, 2017 11:16 am

        There you go! Well done Tony. Side stalls are more expensive than those at the back of the hall, as they are closer to the stage. Nothing to stop you phoning them and checking, though, LOL.

      • Francesca Clementis permalink
        May 13, 2017 11:25 am

        Well done on that, Tony. But I was a bit peeved. Having gone from number 5.388 (!) in the queue to the top of the queue (and also pressing redial on the phone for an hour and a quarter with no luck there) I was annoyed that you couldn’t select your seats, only your preferred section. I needed an aisle seat for somebody (who REALLY needed it) and there was no facility to choose this. I was ordering 5 seats and kept reselecting to see if I got lucky but didn’t. I suppose phone booking was the only way of doing this but I couldn’t get through, despite trying for a further 30 minutes (I am persistent…) until I had to commit to the online purchase or lose the seats. I ended up just buying four and the person who needed the aisle seat has missed out as we couldn’t risk leaving it till we got through on the phone. Never had that with the Albert Hall before. Ah well. Should be a great show anyway.

      • Steve Rich permalink*
        May 13, 2017 11:29 am

        That’s sad, Francesca.

        It may be worth talking to their access help people, to avoid this situation in future, as it could be something they can assist with.

      • Francesca Clementis permalink
        May 13, 2017 11:34 am

        My fault for not checking in advance but I’ve booked for many events at the Albert Hall, including Proms, and always been able to select seats. They must have changed the system just for this year’s Proms. I won’t make that mistake again and will pass the info to other people. The person in question isn’t disabled, just a man with prostate cancer who gets very nervous if he knows he can’t get to the loo quickly!!!!

      • Steve Rich permalink*
        May 13, 2017 4:48 pm

        Ah, I can understand that :). They often do go to “no seat selection” for busy events at most venues. That would count as needing access help, so do ask.

  3. May 13, 2017 12:20 pm

    Sorry to hear about Francesca’s problem. Perhaps, as you say, she should have contacted the RAH’s access people in advance regarding her need for an aisle seat. As for my little moan about price, it’s just pedantic semantics as to how the blocks of stalls at the RAH are described. I am in block M in row 8 in seats 119 and 120 for the matinee which is relatively close to the stage and I am perfectly happy with them. I just have to remember that it’s not 1960 anymore and in 2017, £65 is a perfectly reasonable price for a good seat to a good show! Which reminds me of a line in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ when Dorothy says to Lady Beekman about her old-fashioned dress with a long train: “Take a tuck in that skirt Isabel, it’s 1925!”.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      May 13, 2017 4:49 pm

      I agree.

      Ah, yes, don’t worry, even I get that these days. I look at the price and mistake it for the theatre’s phone number…

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