Buying theatre tickets (3)

It’s the third time I’ve blogged on this topic. Things change so fast on the internet these days so I thought it time for yet another update.

Most people booking theatre tickets, including me, begin with Googling the show’s title. Fortunately Google now makes it clear which items are paid ads and which aren’t, as invariably the first sites to appear will be ads and are more than likely to be tickets agents. Tickets agents are perfectly respectable organisations (so long as they are members of STAR – see my earlier blog here.) and just occasionally  have special offers. Every outlet has its own allocation, but generally speaking you are better off booking through the official site.

Taking two ‘hot’ shows currently running in the West End as examples, this is what happens when I try to book two mid-price seats for Thursday 21 April:

The Book of Mormon

Googling The Book of Mormon, the first four sites that crop up are ads, three of them for ticket agents and one for the Mormons themselves. You have to scroll down to the fifth item before you reach the show’s official site, which is www.bookofmormonlondon.com

The Book of Mormon

(atgtickets.com)

When you click on the official site it shows you a seating plan and you get to choose your seats. For some reason however when I tried to click on the seats I wanted most of the apparently available tickets appeared not to be available, which means either their site is faulty or my mouse. I did manage to get two tickets in Row L of the Stalls for £50 each plus a booking fee of £4.50, totalling £104.50.

On theatrepeople.com  you are given a selection of tickets available on your chosen date and two tickets in Row K of the Stalls will cost you £64 per ticket, face value (ie before their markup) £50. This transaction will cost you a total of £128.

lovetheatre.com only offers ‘Stalls 1st price, 2nd price’ etc., though once you’ve clicked on them you are told the seat numbers. A ticket here in Row M is £75 + £3.50 booking fee, making it a total of £157.

This is what I think they call a no-brainer.

People Places & Things

People Places & Things

(nationaltheatre.org.uk)

Four ads come up here of which the first is the official site at Wyndham’s: wyndhams.fromtheboxoffice.comTickets in Row J of the Stalls will set you back £74.50 each, a total of £149.50 for two. (Yes, this is a hot ticket.)

On lovetheatre.com Row M in the Stalls costs £62.50 plus a socking great booking fee of £13.80 per ticket, making a total for two of £152.60.

You can also book this show through the National Theatre (it was an NT production) – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Stalls seats for this same date are sold out but you can grab a couple of tickets at the back of the Dress Circle for £62.50, totalling £125 (no booking fee). You can also buy tickets at £15 sitting on the stage, if being up that close appeals.

Of the ‘legitimate’ tickets agents some are transparent and helpful – like theatrepeople – and offer you specific seats, so you can see exactly where you’re sitting and what the face value ticket price is, others just charge you a lump sum and say ‘tickets will be allocated at the box office’, which is pretty poor show in my opinion.

Fringe theatres do not charge a booking fee, nor does the National Theatre.

Enjoy your visit to the theatre and if you have any questions about booking theatre tickets in London do email me on patsytrench@gmail.com.

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The ticket-buying jungle (updated)

I last blogged on buying theatre tickets in London over a year ago, so I thought it was time to check again to see if anything has changed.

I’d been listening to visiting students’ experiences booking tickets for shows online. Inevitably they began by Googling the show and more often than not they landed on a sponsored ad for a ticket agent selling tickets at a mark-up price.

Her Majesty's

                   Her Majesty’s Theatre

I am happy to say that if you Google a London show these days you are more likely to arrive at the show’s official site, which leads you to the official ticket agency for that show – very often the owner of the theatre. That’s the good news. The not so good – and surprising – news is that the official agent may not offer you the best deal.

I was looking to buy tickets for a date in November for two long-running shows, Phantom of the Opera and The Woman in Black. The results are printed below, but the conclusion I came to, which is not quite the same conclusion as last time, is that the important thing when booking tickets online is to SHOP AROUND.

Phantom of the Opera (ticketmaster.co.uk)

(ticketmaster.co.uk)

(fortune-theatre.co.uk)

(fortune-theatre.co.uk)

What is the best way to book a theatre ticket in London?

  • If you live here and have the time, visit the theatre itself and see if they offer deals. Many of them sell cut-price tickets on the day, or offer student or other discounts a couple of hours before the performance.
  • Visit the Official London Theatre tkts booth in Leicester Square. They sell tickets for West End shows at half price plus a booking fee, but you mostly have to buy them on the day. You can check availability on their website at tkts.co.uk. WARNING: There are dozens of ticket agents in the Leicester Square area calling themselves ‘Official’, so you need to make sure you’re at the right place.

Tkts booth (tkts.co.uk)

  • If you are booking online then SHOP AROUND for the best deal. Begin with the official site for the show, but you may find, as I did, that other ticket agents offer better deals.
  • Some outlets such as Time Out – uk-offers.timeout.com/deals – have special offers on shows.

NB: If you are booking for a show at the National Theatre, the Globe, the RSC or the Barbican, go to the theatre’s or the company’s website. Likewise for shows on the fringe.

STAR

How do I know if a ticket agent is legitimate?

  • Check to see if they are a member of STAR (Secure Tickets for Authorised Retailers – www.star.org.uk). If not, this doesn’t mean they are disreputable, but you don’t necessarily know who you are dealing with. Most reputable agents will tell you what the face value of the ticket is and how much they are charging on top.
  • Most independent ticket agents will have similar offers, so BEWARE the sole agent who offers tickets for a totally sold-out show.
  • NEVER buy from anyone in the street, or outside the theatre itself. Ticket touts are the scourge of live events everywhere. If you are waiting in a queue for returns inside a theatre and someone offers you a spare ticket, check with a member of the theatre staff that it’s genuine before handing over your money.

***

So who is offering the best deal on tickets for Phantom and The Woman in Black for today, 24 October?

The official website for Phantom is See Tickets and a top price stalls ticket costs £71, which is £66.25 + £4.75 booking fee. The second price stalls ticket is £53, £48.75 + £4.25 booking fee.

The official website for The Woman in Black is The Ambassador Theatre Groupatgtickets.com, booking through lovetheatre.com. But the best price for today’s ticket is through tkts, at £26.75 or £16.75 (plus a booking fee of £3 or £1). Atg has one ticket left in the stalls at £47.50 (£19.50 for students or £23 for seniors, no booking fee).

Some independent tickets agents such as lastminute.com have special offers in November for stalls tickets at £27.50, with no booking fee (Normal price £47). But they don’t tell you where you’ll be sitting.

There’s more information below:

GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS for The Woman in Black & Phantom
for Tuesday 11 November 2014

When Googling Phantom the official site comes up first, and booking through the site takes you to See Tickets or Ticketmaster.

The Woman in Black’s official booking site takes you to atgtickets.

The following four companies are independent agents charging a mark-up.

theatrepeople.com:
Phantom: Stalls row M, £63 (face value £50) + £2.50 postage.
TWIB: Stalls row D £60 (FV £47.50); stalls F (special offer) £28.99 (FV £47.50)

boxoffice.co.uk  – as above.

discounttheatre.com
Phantom: Stalls row O £67.50 + £2.50 postage (no face value)
TWIB: As above

lastminute.com
Phantom: Stalls “second price”, no row number, £58 (£50 + £8 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls top price £27.50 (no booking fee)

atgtickets.com (The Ambassador Theatre Group, official site for TWIB)
Phantom: (redirected to lovetheatre.com) Stalls row Q £57 (£50 + £7.50 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls F £47.50 + £3 transaction fee

seetickets.com
Phantom: Stalls row P £53 (£48.75 face value + £4.25 booking fee)
TWIB: Stalls row D £52.25 (£46 face vlue + £6.25 booking fee)

If in doubt or need of more information or advice please CONTACT ME on patsy@londontheatrevisits.com and I will see if I can help.

***

(Some) WEST END THEATRES & THEIR OWNERS

THE AMBASSADORS THEATRE GROUP own the Apollo Victoria, Donmar, Duke of York’s, Fortune, Harold Pinter, Lyceum, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy, Trafalgar Studios.

Lyceum

Lyceum Theatre

THE REALLY USEFUL COMPANY own the Adelphi, Cambridge, Her Majesty’s, Palladium, New London, Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

DELFONT MACKINTOSH own the Gielgud, Noel Coward, Novello, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Queen’s, Wyndham’s.

Queens

NIMAX THEATRES LTD own the Garrick, Lyric, Apollo, Vaudeville, Palace and Duchess Theatres.

SIR STEPHEN WALEY COHEN owns the Victoria Palace & the Ambassadors Theatre.

Ambassadors

Ambassador’s Theatre

THE OLD VIC THEATRE TRUST (Robert Bourne & Sally Greene) own the Old Vic & the Criterion Theatres.

Old Vic

Old Vic Theatre

***

Ticket-buying international

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.

The Book of Mormon NY

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.
Driving Miss Daisy

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.)

CONCLUSION:

  • 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.

~~~~~

My findings:

SYDNEYSydney Opera House

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) 

WAR HORSE

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)

~~~

Broadway 2NEW YORK

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)

~~~

LONDONShaftesbury Avenue

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

WAR HORSE

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  

PASSION PLAY

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

Freezing in Bermondsey

Round the back of Bermondsey tube station, among housing estates, is a large building that apparently used to be a biscuit factory. Follow the (not terribly visible) signs into the parking lot and a voice calls out from the darkness – Are you here to see the Architects? – Which makes you feel like a surveyor, or perhaps someone from the local (Southwark) council.

Lucky that he does call out otherwise you’d never find the door leading into the side of the building, beyond which is a sort of box office that reminded me of the Tote (way back when I used to go to the races). You enter a sort of fibre-board room, then through into another fibre-board room, and another … and back again … and there’s a monitor on the wall which shows – what? … and a dead end, all quite dimly lit, and eerie music is playing … and there’s a piece of red string! Aha! The first reference to Ariadne, or rather Theseus, or rather the Minotaur, that Theseus went in search of in the labyrinth in order to kill, and managed to find his way out again using string (which was Ariadne’s idea, only Theseus then threw her over for her younger sister Phaedra – thanks Theseus).

The Minotaur's dad (allegedly)

The Minotaur’s dad (allegedly) (shunt.co.uk)

To find the loo you follow a series of red lights in the floor, which leads you across this massive room with always the slight feeling you may never find your way back again. Once done you end up in a large room with a bar and a band and portholes showing the ocean beyond and you realise you’re on a cruise liner. And in the middle is a stuffed white bull that we assume is the Minotaur’s dad, the one his mother mated with as punishment from Aphrodite for her husband’s failure to sacrifice his prize white bull to Poseidon, as a result of which she/they produced this half bull half man that was kept inside a labyrinth. (Are you keeping up?) After a long wait in this freezing space the band starts up and a woman gives us a long, beautifully delivered but not very enlightening dissertation on architecture, in a Danish accent, after which she is joined by three others and then … to cut a long and not very interesting story short … things begin to go gradually out of control – two grownup children appear, past their bedtime so they must kiss everyone in the room (they do) and go to bed, though instead they end up doing acrobatics on ropes in another part of the building to which we are eventually evacuated, in two gender-separated groups, once the ship begins to go down. Are these the children who had to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every seven years to keep him happy?

Who knows.

Theseus and the Minotaur (The Master of Cassoni Campana, 1510)

Ariadne and Phaedra wait patiently as Theseus kills the Minotaur (The Master of Cassoni Campana, 1510)

Shunt is a collective I’ve known of but never before seen, and I booked the show in some excitement for my students well before it opened to what turned out to be, frankly, disappointing reviews. The building they have commandeered, what you can see of it in the dark, is mightily impressive, as are the technical aspects of the show they call ‘The Architects’. These are the four actors on video, drunk and abusive and bossy and behaving badly, just like the Olympic gods of ancient Greece I suppose. The show is supposedly based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges which tells the tale of the Minotaur from the beast’s point of view – an interesting idea but I don’t know what it had to do with what we saw last night.

The Olympic gods?

The Olympic gods?

Still, there was a lot to be gained, other than a chill, from their show. Fantastic surroundings and impressive technical achievements, especially for the acrobatic sequence, just a bit of a shame about the content. And why they couldn’t at least heat the ‘ballroom’ properly is a mystery. Perhaps it was deliberate.

The show runs until 2 February and tickets are bookable through the National Theatre.