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.