Is Theatre Too Expensive?
Carl Woodward said on Twitter “I’d like to report an assault on British theatre”. What prompted this? The news that tickets for seeing Mike Barlett’s Cock were now priced at £400.
I do like to play devil’s advocate and asked on twitter what really constitutes too much for a theatre ticket as people started to criticise this. For me, I don’t know the exact cut off but I’d say when two people can go on a nice holiday in place of a pair of tickets, that’s too much. For a couple to see this show it’s £800. I can’t see how that can be justified.
Prices have been rising rapidly for a while. Before the pandemic, when Mary Poppins reopened there was uproar when it was announced premium seats would be being £200. Then we had Cabaret at £325 (with champagne and a meal) and now Cock at £400, double the Mary Poppins price which caused uproar in 2019. The biggest issue I have with the ticket price is that it normalises the high price. Once they’ve been able to sell a few tickets for a one-act four person play at £400 then it’s easy to justify an even higher price for a lavish high budget musical. They just point to Cock and say “that was just a play, this is more expensive to put on”.
Broadway has shown what happens when this happens. The Music Man has tickets for $1000 now. There were a few comments and then a lot of shrugs. At least the Cock tickets have now been reduced in price (maybe bowing to public pressure, maybe because they decided they wouldn’t sell).
The justification often given for this is that theatre is a business and they will charge what people are willing to pay. But should there be a top limit? Maybe the blame lays with those who pay these prices.
However, what always gets our focus is when prices are high, which makes theatre seem inaccessible. But theatre is accessible and my worry is that the discussion of the high prices clouds people’s views and puts them off when there are plenty of cheaper theatre options. For each £200 ticket for Mary Poppins (which were a small number of seats) there were more £17.50 tickets and several prices in between. Bonnie and Clyde, with 5 star reviews (see our review here) tops out at £60. Even Cock had tickets from £20 when it first went on sale.
TodayTix is a great app if you want discounts. Yes, rush tickets are more difficult for those not close to London but they often have discounts on advance sales. We saw Cock for £55 in previews in the front stalls, My Fair Lady was £40 for dress circle seats. There are also numerous offers through the year with kids week and the new year sales being the first which come to mind.
And this is just the west end. Theatre is much more than the west end. During the Cock controversy several people hopped onto threads to advertise their shows. Operation Mincemeat is new musical with rave reviews with £35 tickets. Above The Stag has its next play, Alright Bitches!, at £15 (£12 in previews). Head to the Peckham Fringe and see @PlayFight4 for £10. Go to the Camden Fringe and get some tickets for £7.50. There are so many options out there that aren’t West End. And this is before we start talking about regional theatre!
Sure, there are some high prices shows many people won’t see, but most people wouldn’t see them anyway. Instead of focusing energy on the criticism of those high-priced shows, which only serves to promote those shows, let’s put energy and focus on seeking out the rest of theatre and supporting that with the social media attention they need and giving them an audience. Both shows in the West End and out of it.