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Still about beating ticket touts…

December 7, 2016

For those who tried to get “Adele” tickets and found themselves chasing pavements instead, the usual reasons given in the press were that automated systems were sucking up the tickets before anyone else had a chance – by entering payment details faster than a human could. Further, agreements between venues and “secondary ticketing” websites meant that vast blocks were never on sale at “normal” prices anyway.

Now, last Thursday, something interesting happened. It was Theatremonkey.com’s 16th birthday – and thank you to the literally hundreds of readers who tweeted, emailed and posted on www.theatreboard.co.uk their good wishes, you’ve NO idea how much that meant – anyway again…

I also got an email telling me that (after the late, great, Paul Daniels, may he rest in peace always) my favourite magicians Penn and Teller would be in the UK next year. I’ve always promised myself to go see them, and since Las Vegas is out of the question for the time being, the UK seemed a far better bet.

Better still, if willing to use AXA ticketing, a priority bunch of seats were on sale. True, you couldn’t choose your own, and the fees were £2 more than the usual site, but even so… I went for it, and have a wonderful seat, £30 cheaper than just 2 rows in front. Delighted and can’t wait for my Miser’s Dream (I hope. If it doesn’t happen, watch out at the stage door is all I’m saying).

Point is, though, AXA have found a way to beat the automated system so far as entering personal details as fast as a machine can… while in the “waiting room” to buy tickets, you can ENTER ALL YOUR CARD DETAILS so that when you do get on to buy, just like the computers, it’s all there and you don’t have to do anything more once your seats have been allocated.

It speeds up booking too, as the site isn’t waiting for hundreds of people to fumble with the forms as well as selecting the tickets and dealing with the line, and the whole thing works. I was impressed (even if the total booking fees were, frankly, pretty high and imaginative – “facility fee,” anyone?). So, that’s that bit sorted. Next thing is to eliminate the usability of tickets to start with, making it pointless for a tout to buy them in the first place.

My latest suggestion: ask those customers who are interested to pre-register for an event, and upload photos of those who will be using the tickets. At checkout, once logged into your account (details entered), the user must select the photos of those attending – and the photos will be printed out on the tickets AND digitally entered into the database so that on arrival ushers can check faces and compare them with the online photo brought up on the entry device too, if there’s a question.

There’s no way to re-sell a ticket with a photo on it, nor alter the photo if it is going to be compared, and it’s another weapon, I think. Also, if I’m paying £7 for the service privilege, a personalised souvenir ticket is at least way of getting something for it, isn’t it!

Things People Assume About Theatregoers

November 30, 2016

I do still get the odd, “how did you get interested in theatre, when nobody in your family is connected with it, and you come from such an ordinary background” comment. Answer: my parents did love going to see live shows, and were wise enough to take me when I was very young.

Still, it did get me making a very simple list of things theatregoers seem to be thought of as being… yet I can’t relate to any of them…

Posh. Me? Blackpool chips over Beluga Caviar any day.

Grey haired. Well, half guilty, but its stress, and I’ve not dyed it blue… yet.

Alcoholic. All those “free glass of Prosecco with your ticket” offers. I for one am tee-total, and actually get angry when I get those offers. Add a soft drink alternative, please.

Clever. Well, I do have the certificates, but to understand even the most complex play you need only see a great production and listen.

Rich. In name only, and of course I know which seats to buy and where to get them cheap. If I can’t, well, the odd pricey one I think evens it out, but even I drew the line at £85 for “The Rocky Horror Show,” last year – Richard as narrator or not.

Stupid. If I pay for a premium seat without good reason, I may just let you have that one (see above).

Middle-class. If reading the “Daily Mail” (mostly for Fred Bassett, Baz Bamigboye and Richard Littlejohn) is, then fine. I’d say working class product of a comprehensive school is nearer the mark.

Obsessive. Guilty as charged. Well, one of out 7 isn’t bad, is it?!

Is “Dynamic Pricing” actually restricting producers?

November 23, 2016

From a discussion about “Half A Sixpence” on theatreboard.co.uk, someone was saying that they wouldn’t see the show, simply due to ticket prices, and couldn’t understand why they were not cheaper in order to build an audience.

Aside from the fact a West End show is an expensive thing to stage (particularly on this scale, with a large cast and proportionately small theatre),  my reply was that producers are rather stuck with their options. As I saw it, they were simply,

1) Price the same as other shows – high to start, because you can always discount later (and bear in mind that just because your printed prices are high, you can “dynamic price” at any time. You can also sell to trade / groups etc at prices far below those the public know about.

2) Price low to start, go high if you have a hit. Problem is, you lose revenue in those vital first weeks, and risk a backlash when you return to normal pricing.

3) Price fair, and miss out on “discount hunters” in the marketplace. You only have your show to splash, not a “discount” to wave – whether it really is a discount or not.

4) Price high, hope to sell and hang on like grim death until you have to cut. If you do, you risk destroying your show’s reputation as it is seen as a failure that doesn’t sell.

My point was that producers can’t really win, these days.

In the past, the only people who knew which rows were at which prices were those who either had an obliging clerk on the phone, or could visit and see the colour-coded seating plan on the box office counter. Unless they “moved the rope” (re-priced seats nearest where the prices usually changed to a lower / higher price) the seat prices were fixed and nobody knew different – plus there was only the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to discount to.

Now, it’s all open online, and the public thinks it can see prices and seat locations instantly, and know how a show is selling. Not totally true – most theatres trickle seats to the online booking plans to sell, and seats are often kept off for groups / agents / management use etc. Still, I do wonder if dynamic pricing is actually killing shows in a whole new way, now, by offering chances to be too clever with the marketing of them – as my four alternative methods of pricing suggest.

Sure, “dynamic” maximises a hit (with the corollary of driving away regulars, as Mr Pugh of “The Girls” rightly notes) and potentially allows a quieter night to fill extra seats at lower prices. BUT it also leads to the situation the person on theatreboard moaned about, where prices seem to start particularly high, to allow for later movement, perhaps, but meantime blow the opportunity to sell to the less convinced at a reasonable price. A regular theatregoer knows the prices may change in their favour, but the casual buyer is repelled and will never come back to discover the alteration.

In fact, just as this blog was going to press, a reader emailed to say that she had decided not to see a show at her local theatre because “dynamic pricing” put second price tickets up to above the usual top price on the day she wanted to go – despite plenty of seats being available.

Worse, the vocal minority who love to issue gloomy warnings spot the empty seats, and are given fuel to talk a show into the ground, particularly when unsold tickets later do show up at lower prices.

There has to be something to be said for a return to the old methods. You knew the prices, knew the price structure would stay the same, and decided whether to buy or not without taking a chance things would get cheaper later on. Producers had the flexibility to increase prices or quietly drop the price of seats within a section, and there was a sense of trust between both them and their customers.

Maybe that’s the key. Rebuild that – as “The Girls” will with its lack of “premium seats” and fair prices throughout the house, and perhaps it’ll be a winning situation for producers whose shows run longer as the public begin to book ahead once again. Worth consdering, I think.

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna – Wembley Arena

November 16, 2016

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 13th November 2016)

Still high on my “bucket list” has to be learning to ride a horse. Not something I had a chance to try as a child, but as an adult it just feels like something I’d like to do. Preferably during a relaxed month or three at a luxury 5 star “dude ranch” in Arizona, so maybe there’s a touch of “cowboy” there (no barracking at the back, thank you)… but now, well, Vienna seems tempting.

Since around 1565, The Spanish Riding School (and its forbearers) has taught noblemen and the military to ride. Not just ride, but bond with a horse to an extent where it can perform the most precise movements with just a voice, touch or light movement of reins, and even become a powerful weapon itself on the battlefield.

This 450th Anniversary tour is a chance for those in London and Birmingham (be quick, they are performing there this coming weekend) to get a glimpse of what goes on in the impressive 18th Century building in Vienna that now houses them.

In an almost 2 hour long programme, incredible horsemanship mixes with Austrian classical music and interesting audio-visual slides (presented live by Nikki Chapman) to form a fascinating afternoon.

The show is designed to demonstrate every aspect of the horse / rider partnership – which is for life, as the rider usually stays with the horse right until it retires at around 25 years old. The Lipizzaner horses themselves come from just 7 blood-lines, and the oddest fact of all is that only a horse from one of those lines may be regarded as “white.” All other white horses should, for strict accuracy, be considered “grey.”

The bond is shown first with four horses performing basic steps – yes, in exact time to Mozart – before moving on to explain “Work In Hand – Schools above the Ground;” to us, how they make those horses leap as they do. A horse takes two-thirds of its weight on its forelegs, so it’s quite a feat, beginning on a short rein without a rider.

Moving on, an amusing “Pas De Deux” – literally a ballet for two horses and riders – is a highlight of timing as they keep pace over the wide expanse of the arena. Closing the first half with a solo demonstration of a horse guided only by a long rein and voice, I couldn’t wait to see how exactly these skills came together.

The second half explained it. The three iconic “leaps,” “Courbette,” where the horse rears up on its back legs and jumps forwards, “Capriole” as it jumps with all legs in the air and moves forward, kicking out (lethal in war, the reason for the move) and “Levade” (assuming a statue-like pose on hind legs only for seconds at a time) are demonstrated to full effect. A horse has more than “forward gears,” with the right training they go up, down and sideways as well – often simultaneously… who knew?!

With a finale “School Quadrille” of 8 horses in the arena, the programme closes with each skill demonstrated and a stunning visual memory of animals and riders in harmony, moving together in beautiful, sometimes heart-stoppingly close formations.

It’s an incredibly gentle, horse paced afternoon. That takes some getting used to, coming from our modern fast world. Yet as the time passes, it seems more and more natural and my appreciation of the skill of riders and the standard of the work presented grew exponentially with every passing moment.

A genuinely fascinating afternoon, and I hope one day to take up the invitation they close with, to visit the actual school itself. Another one for the “bucket list,” I guess.

Side Show – Southwark Playhouse

November 9, 2016

(seen at the afternoon performance on 5th November 2016)

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This show belongs firmly to the design and costuming team. Takis gives us a seedy circus feel of lit arches and staircases, with boxes wheeled around to stand on and store things. Natasha Lawes adds make up and prosthetics to the costumes, giving us lizards, tattoos, half man / woman and co-joined twins that fascinate the eye and help the actors immensely with their performances. Only “dog boy” (Oliver Marshall) looks perhaps more Chewbacca than is helpful.

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For this show is about freaks. At the centre, paired Daisy and Violet Hilton (Louise Dearman / Laura Pitt-Pulford), rescued from exhibition and abuse (in all ways)

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by “father” Sir (Chris Howell) and elevated to national fame on the legit “Vaudeville” circuit by Buddy (Dominic Hodson) and Terry (Hayden Oakley).

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The rest of the company play all other roles, from freaks to journalists (resist all jokes). As freaks, Lizard Man (Nuno Quiemado), Half Man Half Woman (Kirstie Skivington), Tattooed Girl (Agnes Pure) and Fortune Teller (Genevieve Taylor) shine in particular. Jake (Jay Marsh), fierce protector – and admirer – of the twins is also outstanding in a role with a emotional huge range.

This is, though, the twins show, and they sing and act everything they can out of this. Their work together is impressive, synchronisation to Olympic standard. No wonder Sir,

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and agents Buddy and Terry wished to keep their company. The strength of the show and their performances is in making this unusual situation so credible.

Sadly, there is a reason this show isn’t more widely seen… the book simply doesn’t work. Lengthy “back story” “Flashback and Trial” kills the pace of the first half, and we are left wondering what happened to the sisters at the end, too (they were abandoned, penniless by a promoter in 1960, got jobs in a shop where they were left, and died of Hong Kong Flu in 1969) missing something far more theatrical.

The rhyming dictionary appears a little more than a Broadway show may tolerate too, and the score just carries the show, but fails to soar for the key points in the tale and create a definitive “showstopper” of a number that the atmosphere cries out for.

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This is probably going to be the rarest chance to see “Side Show,” and I’d venture the best possible one too. The production is perfection in achieving its aim of presenting a difficult musical to the highest standard. Even if the show itself is revealed as too weak to shine in itself, this cast more than generate enough energy to carry it off with a far greater than expected success.

 

Oh, and just to finish, a couple proposed, and accepted, this afternoon, in front of everyone after curtain-call and with the assistance of the cast to get them to the stage. I wish them well – a different end to the show, for sure.

 

All photographs: Pamela Raith. Used by kind permission.

Oil – Almeida Theatre.

November 2, 2016

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 29th October 2016.)

From pre-publicity at the time I booked, I was led to believe this would be a 3 hour plus epic, exploring oil and its part in Western Industrialised history. I have to admit I booked a seat with extra legroom… and was quite relieved to find out on arrival that it would run a mere two hours thirty – though the first half would consume one hour twenty of that.

Still, it’s the first time I’ve managed to see Anne-Marie Duff work live on stage, and combined with some excellent performances by Yolanda Kettle as her daughter Amy, Nabil Elouahabi as Mr. Farouk, Patrick Kennedy as Samuel (and name variations across the years) and those around them, there is plenty of talent to see the piece through. Director Carrie Cracknell keeps everything moving as far as she can, and there’s note to for Vicki Mortimer’s simple yet evocative set-design, particularly the opulent Eastern and home kitchen scenes; with actors waiting in full view among appropriate items.

The trouble is, despite all combined efforts, writer Ella Hickson does appear to lose control of her material in the course of attempting to combine stylish structure, thought-provoking messages, moving history and theatrical symbolism – mostly simultaneously.

It would be wrong to condemn her efforts entirely as pretentious, because – “foreign language” interludes aside – they are honest tries from someone whose third scene proves a tremendous ability to write personal relationships and accompanying dialogue.

Sadly, it all seems over-wrought from the start. Beginning in an 1800s farmhouse, with a demonstration of how cold and dark it is for the “peasants” (a “Mr Burns” throwback for audiences, as lighting designer Lucy Carter goes for an all-candle lighting approach) and Ms Duff gets a public cold bath. A hefty “we will buy you” message, and clumsy “hand” device are delivered in six times the length necessary. Oh, and we see an oil lamp for the first time, courtesy of a travelling salesman (dead symbolic – as we travel for oil).

The first crazy “interlude” follows as some weird vocal ramblings and blurry projections transport us – as they will again between the other scenes – through time. Probably there to scare audiences into remaining seated rather than escaping, perhaps…

Scene two, early 1900s, Iran, a colonial plot to get our “hands” on the oil, a nauseatingly silly “theft – look, aren’t I clever, a woman steals, we all steal” moment. Actually, nicely played with Joseph Alford’s movement well executed… but again saying nothing much.

Third scene, most successful. A 70s kitchen, sparky work by all, and the only time the show flowed with a lovely unselfconscious form of play from all. A couple of deserved (if predictable) laughs from the audience too.

A break, then two “future” scenes. Near future, 2021, when a war-torn country shouts at both our patronising approach to them and ‘guilts’ us for interfering in the name of fuel. Logic starts to fail when (from the previous scene) it’s rightly pointed out that the relationship began as mutual aid and that internal politics after that actually caused issues we could sort. Oh, and envelopes of cash again – she really is on it, style-wise, our author.

The final “huddle round a candle” of 2051 was simply a laughable end. A salesman (echo of first scene) turns up with a miniature nuclear reactor solution… to a problem which couldn’t happen as we already use less oil than ever and will continue to develop other solutions. A fact totally ignored by Ms Hickson.

There’s a great 70 minute play wrapped in far too much personal agenda, alas; and I just couldn’t buy a single word of her conclusions, though appreciated the research going into a fairly unpromising premise.

Thematically, it’s interesting, but unless a fan of the actors and director, who are blameless, this really isn’t a ticket worth mining for.

Cameron – v- Ticket Touts

October 26, 2016

With the announcement that “Hamilton” will open in London in late 2017, Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s host as owner of the Victoria Palace Theatre also said that he is trying to make certain that everybody pays the price on the ticket, and no more. He pledges to stop “secondary ticketing” sites snapping up the seats and selling them for “New York” prices.

I’ve only been blogging on all these topics for years, so what’s new? Can it be that finally producers have realised that online touting is such a menace that it is dragging the reputation of an entire industry down? Or… is it that by controlling the flow of tickets, with a handy “dynamic pricing” tool, the producers can still charge a pile of cash… and keep the lot themselves?

That way carries far less risk. Touts lose money on what they can’t sell. Producers only lose if the seat isn’t sold at all. They still lose if they have to sell too cheap – below cost price – but it’s a lesser amount, and they have the advantage of being able to sell at the theatre right up to the moment the show begins.

Consumers will win, in that the tickets will be genuine and if there is a problem, the theatre will be able to track it down and solve it. Also, and more obviously, if the touts can’t get the tickets in the first place, we all have a greater choice of the good ones.

Actually regulating ticket flow comes down to two things. First, making sure the buyers are genuine and second, giving those genuine people a means to return tickets if they can’t use them.

The “secondary re-selling” websites survive at least in part due to unwanted non-refundable seats being sold on. Mostly, though, it’s professional sellers (and the site owners doing deals with venues), but still, it is a means for the public to recoup a loss they can’t make up in any other way.

Verifying genuine fans isn’t that hard. A database of previous transactions show who are the regulars, for a start. Requiring pre-registration of payment cards to be used may help, again weeding out multiple users. Doing the whole thing by post, and mailing in a photo to be printed on the ticket is my favourite, but it doesn’t draw headlines.

Whichever is chosen, it is at least a step in the right direction, and good luck to those getting tickets too. I for one am looking forward to it.