Ticket pricing in the West End

Some of my fondest childhood memories are annual birthday trips to London. Shopping, sightseeing, amazingly calorific food topped off with a West End theatre production of my choice. The soundtrack tape was always purchased and formed the basis of car sing offs for the next six months.

We would occasionally pre-book tickets but generally wing it, visiting a box office and snapping up tickets for a show starting in 20 minutes across town and run fast, simultaneously mocking our mother’s bladder function.

An annual ticket survey conducted by The Stage in October 2019 found the most expensive tickets have risen on average just under 60 per cent since 2012 though, pricing a lot of us out of the market. Average seats are up 13 per cent on 2018 and personally I will not part with money for the cheapest, restricted view seats – not to mention how quickly they sell out.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical, Hamilton, is the latest show to be criticised over pricing and a quick Google for tickets shows Ticketmaster first. A returned ticket for January 31 in the stalls or royal circle is £287.50 and a grand circle, nose-bleeder seat is £66.25. So four tickets with a decent view would cost a staggering £1150!

Tickets direct through the Victoria Palace Theatre are £250 for the best seats available, so can Ticketmaster really justify charging £37.50 a head to handle the process?

Liberal Democrat peer Patrick Boyle tabled a motion for debate on this issue in April 2019. He wants more regulation in the industry with his speech in the House of Lords centered around the idea many can no longer afford ticket prices, with a lack of transparency on where the money went. He is the Earl of Glasgow, so if he can’t afford it there is no hope for me.

I spoke to Chris Kirkwood, the chief executive of the Lincoln Drill Hall, about pricing in general and why the West End is so expensive compared to Lincoln. Chris said: “I would argue the Government will stay out of the debate in terms of the West End as it’s a commercial proposition. I’m not sure they could regulate what someone charges for a product any more than they could do for the car industry.

“In the West End an estimate to put a new musical on the stage costs £1million upwards, so pricing is always going to be high to recoup costs. Channel 4 did a documentary a few years ago and the producer of Top Hat suggested they had to gross £250,000 per week just to stay afloat. With that in mind the West End couldn’t move towards Pay What You Decide.”

My local theatre, the South Holland Centre in Spalding, is a lot more comfortable than the dizzying heights of the grand circles of London so I want to book more National Theatre Live.  For under £20 a live streaming of the performance is broadcast direct from the theatre.

But I will need a West End fix every now and again for the whole experience, so I better start another Hamilton-sized piggy bank.

Winter Wilson Preview

The folk band Winter Wilson are back on tour, performing their original folk songs with tight harmonies at the South Holland Centre in Spalding on January 8.

The band members are Kip Winter, who provides female lead vocals and plays the flute, accordion and guitar and Dave Winter, who plays the banjo, guitar and provides male vocals.

Martin Browne from the Spalding Folk Club said: “The sound itself is melodic, compassionate and delivered with sweet, accurate voices that frequently soar with beautiful harmonies.”

 The married couple have toured extensively across the world since becoming full time musicians eight years ago, playing Spalding twice before in 2016 and 2017. They live in Sleaford and met 25 years ago, explaining the chemistry on the stage.

The Spalding concert kick-starts their 2020 tour, cutting back to 70 dates after the busiest year yet in 2019. This included a world tour with a gig at the Edinburgh Fringe and a Canadian show that had to be live streamed as it sold out so quickly.

The year also saw the release of their first live album and tenth release overall, Live and Unconventional. Their first album, By the Skin of Our Teeth was released in 1999.

Fresh material is currently being written, so the show will include some of their back catalogue and crowd favourites such as Ghost, a song written about an article Dave read in The Big Issue magazine.

The band are popular with fans for the music but also their jokes and chat between songs.

Kip said: “The music is always the most important thing but some of the songs can be quite hard hitting so it’s good to lighten it up between. We consider ourselves as entertainers, not just singers.”

Folk music has had a mainstream resurgence since bands such as Mumford and Sons released successful chart hits like I Will Wait in 2012, altering folk music’s demographic to include younger generations.

Dave said: “There are a lot more young people performing folk music these days but it’s not being reflected in the audiences at folk clubs. We’ve found that folk festivals draw younger audiences.”

Martin concluded: “We love Winter Wilson to bits and for many years they have been supportive of live music events in our area, where members are always keen to see them back.”

Currently there is only one other show scheduled in Lincolnshire on February 28 in Morton, so this might be one of the only opportunities to see Winter Wilson live in the region.

Tickets are £6 with the show starting at 8pm. Contact the South Holland Centre on 01775 764777 to book.

Reading with young children

Ailsa Adams, columnist and mother to George and Wilf, aged five and two explains why reading with your small children is still important in 2020.

As the digital world encroaches on our lives further, it is still important to read physical books with young children and babies. The benefits are far reaching for both the child and yourself and as the phrase says: “There is no App to replace your lap.”

When to start?

It is never too early according to Dr Karen Coats, the Director of the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University: “As early as the 1970s, researchers have found that infants can recognise a text that has been read to them repeatedly while they were still in the womb, within hours after birth.”

Sounds like the perfect excuse to read your old favourite children’s book aloud to your bump with a hot cup of tea, all in the name of education.

Benefits for your child

There are so many benefits to reading with young children, the obvious one being language development. Dr Karen expands: “When babies and children are read to, they hear many more and different words than people use in everyday conversation. They also hear these words in clusters and expressions such as ‘handsome prince’ or ‘big, bad wolf’ so they are getting a sense of context.”

One book a day prior to starting school at the age of four will mean the child has listened to at least 1460 stories. The impact to literacy is so far reaching, not only for competence but also for enjoyment, attention span and focus.  “You can tell who has been read to and who hasn’t when teaching a child to read and it alters their enjoyment of it, it can be much less of a chore.  If you are in a good routine of reading with your child, it will also be easier to start hearing them read to you every day after school,” says Sharon Clarke, a primary school teacher in London and Lincolnshire for 35 years and mother to six children.

Another benefit is that it is an easy way of bonding with your baby and can form an essential part of a good bedtime routine. If you are struggling to get a child to go to sleep, instilling a routine can really help with the winding down process, getting the book out is the signal it is time for bed. A warning from Dr Karen though: “Be aware that for babies, a book is something to explore with their mouths, so you want to make sure the books you share aren’t too precious.”

The best part is while they are a baby, you can pick what you read to them.

Benefits for you

It is an excuse to escape reality for ten minutes a day while you delve into the depths of make-believe. Dr Karen feels passionately about dedicating time: “For that space of time, phones are put away, TVs turned off, and the pair share attention without the distractions.

“Most books for children are enjoyable in ways that adults might have forgotten such as the rhythm of the text, the humour or the appeal of the images.”

It also impacts on our mental and overall health in a positive way. “Rhythmic language can actually lower blood pressure, for instance, and reading picture-books and stories that require the creation of mental images integrates neural activity, making the reader feel more coherent after a day of stressful demands,” says Dr Karen.

Does it matter what you read?

Not really, but some books are more beneficial than others. Dr Karen offers advice on what is the most beneficial: “Everything starts with poetry, so read lots of poetry. This will give them an ear for their language and help them develop confidence in speaking as well, as children’s poems are written to be read aloud.”

At a young age enjoyment is also vital, there is no point reading Aristotle to a two-year-old if they (and you) are not interested. A book they can get involved with will have them reaching for it again and again from the bookshelf.  “Around 10 months old I really noticed the effect reading was having on the boys. Rex started to pick the books off the shelf he wanted me to read to him, showing favouritism to certain pages too,” says Isabella Hicks, a reader and mother of three boys aged five, three and two.

Dr Karen agrees: “Give them lots of opportunities to choose their own books and do some exploratory work on your own to find books that present them with a range of artistic styles and diverse stories.”

What if my baby won’t sit still?

Start small with short stories and keep building it up, taking breaks to discuss it with older toddlers. Dr Karen believes the talking around the book is as important as the book itself: “Talk, talk, talk about what you’re reading, you’ll be surprised with what they noticed that you didn’t.”

The last story read to Wilf is in his bed, so he is laying down and engaged with the story. It is a different type of reading than daytime when he is pointing at pictures and turning the pages.

“Reading with toddlers both on and off your lap is a great start to getting them used to sitting on the carpet for story-time at school,” says Sharon Clarke.

The verdict is clear. Let’s reach for our favourite books and have a snuggle for some essential, educational bonding time, complete with lots of obligatory head sniffs, to soak up the adorable baby smell.