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Ker-ching, My Lord?

July 26, 2017

An article in “The Stage” newspaper on 13th July 2017 had Lord Lloyd-Webber stating that London theatre ticket prices were fairly reasonable, considering how expensive it is to stage theatre. It’s labour-intensive and income is limited to the number of seats you can sell, basically.

In a discussion at theatreboard.co.uk, a reader asked me, “What is your honest opinion of ticket prices compared to 10 years ago?” Given that Theatremonkey has been going nearly 17 years and recorded the prices for most of those, plus the fact I myself have been a buyer for over 30 years, it was a fascinating question. This blog includes most of my reply.

For me, I guess it has felt like a natural progression. I remember £20, then £30, then £40 being the highest price. The stab of pain when “premium seats” came in at double that… and the amusement at the empty seats they caused before theatres “wised up” a little and started to discount them (not that they tell you that).

The fact is, though, that actual prices are not that high if you can forage for the right seat on the right date with the right discount / membership. We didn’t have to do that before, as prices were fixed and the best seats were not “premium” on top of that. Solve that one, and sanity may prevail again.

That prices are high, or are perceived that way, is not, I feel, the actual cause of the death of new audiences. The way in which they are being used by the show’s marketing team will be the death instead. There are, in fact, more discounted seats than ever before – but they have become inaccessible to anybody who doesn’t know how to work the house booking systems to their advantage, and who needs to fit theatre in around their lives.

The big problem is that at popular times, the times that ordinary non-fans look to go to the theatre (weekends, holidays) the prices are in some cases off-puttingly outrageous. Convincing people that there are more reasonable prices on other dates is hard to impossible, and is the real issue here.

When I started theategoing, £10 got you a tube fare, McDonalds meal and standby ticket, with change for a programme. Those days are gone and won’t return. It is, though, still possible to do all that for under £30, so maybe it isn’t as bad as it looks. If you challenge that: Tube fare from zone 5, return, adult, off-peak £6.20. Programme, £4. McDonalds saver meal, burger, fries, drink: £3.20. Total, £13.40. That leaves £16.60 for a ticket. 10p gets you a place at the Royal Court Theatre on standby, £10 into any number of fringe venues, or a bookable £12.50 seat in the upper circle at “Les Misérables,” a £15 ticket in the National Theatre to any production, or a £12 day seat at “The Ferryman,” just as examples.

Not great, but not impossible.

Fact is, we wouldn’t settle for the production values of shows back when I started going in the 1980s. Even “The Phantom of the Opera” is sometimes criticised these days for dated staging. Theatre costs, alas, and the box office is where we all start paying… luckily, the odd short cut is still there, if you know where to look…

 

2 Comments
  1. July 26, 2017 11:25 am

    Very good overview of the costs of theatregoing, but I think perhaps rather narrow in the example quoted, which refers of course to a dedicated theatregoer who is happy with a meal at MacDonalds (I prefer Pret-a-manger) and who also, like me, appears to be on his own and free enough for example to get to theatres early to buy day tickets. What about larger groups of people like families or even couples? I know they can also take advantage of some discount offers if they know where to look but it must be harder for them to save money on the normal full prices, especially if their occasional visit to the theatre has to be on a specific date for a celebration like a birthday and this presumably causes the overall impression that theatre seat prices are ‘too high’. Although totally ignorant of the whole scene, I would be interested to know how the cost of theatregoing compares with the cost of pop concerts. From what I read in the press, people (mainly young but not all) are willing to pay extremely high ticket prices to attend major pop concerts and I understand the tickets often sell out in record time. Is this a fair comparison with the average cost of theatre tickets these days?

    • Steve Rich permalink
      July 29, 2017 7:57 am

      Ah, I was just taking the example of then and now with me personally, to prove that I could still do the same thing 3 decades later.

      All other things, yes, it is far harder, which is indeed the point I was making.

      Pop Concerts are pretty much the same as premium price tickets. The only differences being that there are far more premium seats than not, and anything not is miles from the stage, usually. Also, booking fees are far, far higher. On the other hand, I’ve just booked a concert at Wembley Arena at the end of the year, and that was £39.50 plus fees for the front block, so, far cheaper than some, I guess.

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