A few months ago, in response to some baffled queries from overseas students, I investigated the ticket-buying jungle in London and turned up some rather interesting results.
As a group tour booker I realise I am extremely spoilt: I get some fantastic deals on shows, especially if my clients are students, I am given up to a month to pay and there is no booking fee. For the individual however it’s not that simple, and while people complain about West End ticket prices – with some justification perhaps – a quick look at what’s available, and how, in other English-speaking countries is a bit of an eye-opener.
For my (admittedly not particularly scientific) survey of the international theatre-booking business I chose three cities: London (West End), New York (Broadway) and Sydney (where I happen to be at the time), and five shows currently running or opening soon: The Book of Mormon (London and New York), War Horse (London and Sydney) and three ‘straight’ plays: Driving Miss Daisy (Sydney), Orphans (New York) and Passion Play (London). I picked the most expensive and least expensive seat available on random dates in March and April.
The results in full are at the end of this blog, but suffice to say:
WE LONDONERS ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY.
Admittedly the low pound helps, but the most remarkable discoveries I made were:
- a premium seat for The Book of Mormon in New York costs more than three times the equivalent in London, at $487.75 (£325.16) compared with £97 in London.*
- the cheapest seat for the same show is likewise, at $262.75 (£175.17) in NY and £51.50 in London (restricted view).
- apart from Mormon, which is a bit of a special case, most West End shows do offer affordable seats: you can see see the London War Horse for £16.30 (restricted view, including the booking fee) and Passion Play for £18 (ditto).
- booking fees in both Sydney and New York are three to four times as much as in London: up to AU$11 per ticket in Sydney (£7.64) and US$10.75 in NY (£7.17) compared with between £2 & £3.50 in London.
- all booking websites are not the same. The US site for instance – telegraph.com – was not very customer-friendly. It was almost impossible to find the cheapest seat for anything and every time you make a minor change you have to enter another verification code (the jumbled numbers or letters to prove you are a human being), some of which were so impossible to decipher I had to have several goes. None of them however was as clear and easily navigable as the excellent National Theatre site.
- a premium seat for Driving Miss Daisy in Sydney (with a cast of three) is one and a half times as expensive as the top price for a show in the West End, and considerably more expensive than the top price ticket for the Sydney production of War Horse (cast of dozens, human and non-).
*Using current conversion rates of US$1.5 to the £ and AU$1.44 to the £.
Of course there are reasons for some of this, not least – in the case of Sydney – the population, which at 4.6m or so is just over half the population of London, and means that ‘hot’ shows like Daisy (with Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones) is only on for four weeks, before moving on to Melbourne. (And their beaches are better than ours, not to mention the weather.)
- It confirms my (unscientifically held) opinion that London is the theatre capital of the world. Not only do we have the greatest variety and diversity of shows, in the West End and elsewhere, but most important of all we have
- AFFORDABLE SEATS. As a teacher and tour organiser and theatre lover it pains me to think that anyone, young or old, rich or poor, should be excluded from being able to see the best shows in the world.
- for our American cousins it is worth considering a trip to London if only to save on the cost of theatre tickets.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Ticket agent : Ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: Per transaction ‘handling fee’ $6.95 plus processing fee for credit and debit cards 2.3%.
Website: Floor plan with available seats, identity code fairly easy to decipher (except for irritating Facebook popup).
Thursday 14 March:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $199.90 + 4.42 + 6.95 = AU$211.27 (£146.72)
Cheapest: Back row Circle $119.90 + 2.58 + 6.95 = AU$129.43 (£89.88)
Ticket agent: ticketmaster.com.au
Booking fees: as above
Tuesday April 9:
Premium: Row A (3rd row Stalls) $124.90 + 6.95 + 2.65 = $134.50 (£93.40)
Cheapest: Grand Circle $89.90 + 6.95 +1.85 = $ 91.75 (£63.72)
THE BOOK OF MORMON
Ticket agent: telecharge.com.
Booking fees: Service charge $8 + ‘Handling charge’ $2.75
Website: Not user-friendly. Asks for identity code every time you make a change, which is often unreadable, seating plan available only on request and cheapest tickets hard to find.
Thursday April 11:
Premium: Row E (Orchestra) $477 + 8 + 2.75 = US$487.75 (£325.16)
Cheapest (that I could find): (Mezzanine) $252 + 8 + 2.75 = $262.75 (£175.17)
ORPHANS, starring Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster & Tom Sturridge
Ticket agent: telecharge.com
Booking fees: as above
Thursday April 4:
Premium: Row H (Orchestra) $200 + $8 + £2.75 = $210.75 (£131.72)
Cheapest: (back row Mezzanine) $67 + $8 + $2.75 = $75 (£50)
THE BOOK OF MORMON
Ticket agent: delfont-mackintosh.com
Booking fees: £2 + £1 optional donation to Comic Relief
Website: easy; no identity codes.
Thursday 13 June: (first available seats)
Premium: Circle (1 remaining) £95.00 + £2 = £97.00
Cheapest: Rear stalls (restricted view due to sound desk) £49.50 + 2 = £51.50
Ticket agent: Warhorse.seetickets.com
Booking fees: from £2.30 – £3.50 transaction fee
Website: Okay – no codes, seating plan too small to decipher
Thursday 4 April:
Premium: Row G Stalls £84 + 3.50 = £87.50
Cheapest: Row A Circle (restricted view due to safety rail) £14 + 2.30 = £16.30
Cheapest unrestricted view £24 + 3.20 = £27.20
Ticket agent: Atgtickets.com
Booking fees: £3 transaction fee
Website: Floor plan, no code, but you have to begin again from scratch when you make a change.
Thursday 9 May:
Premium: Row J Stalls £75 + 3 = £78
Cheapest: Upper Circle (restricted view, lose front of stage) £15 + 3 = £18