I love going to the theatre, but I do go through phases of going. Life gets in the way, plus you can’t always get to theatres at the right time to see what you want to. Theatre tickets aren’t cheap either, especially if you want to go more than once a year.
Ever since my mum took me to The Royal Festival Hall in London to see The Nutcracker, Coppelia, and then Alessandra Ferri in Romeo and Juliet. Family friends took me to the panto (although this isn’t really my kind of genre), and I’ve been to classical concerts, musicals, dance shows and amateur local performances. In the past I’ve had work colleagues who’ve been theatre buddies, and occasionally friends will come along. But nowadays I mostly go to the theatre on my own. It’s just easier than trying to get friends to agree dates and coordinate diaries and seating needs when it’s just myself to sort out.
I’m a big fan of Warwick Arts Centre as it’s nice and local, and easy to get to. It’s so much less hassle than the big theatres in London, Birmingham or Oxford, plus because it’s independent you rarely pay booking fees. The big theatre groups can charge what seems like a ridiculous amount of money for fees on top of the tickets – I begrudge paying big fees because apart from the advertising and central ticket selling websites, when you’re printing off your own tickets, how come fees are so pricy.
There are some tips and tricks on how to spend less and get cheaper theatre tickets. Some involve luck, others tenacity, and you might need to make some sacrifices in either view or convenience in buying them. But if you’re going to the theatre regularly, it can get expensive, so any discounts will help.
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Tips on getting cheaper theatre tickets
1. Go in person to the ticket office to buy
Most online ticket sales websites will charge a fee, but buying at the box office will be cheaper. So if you work or live near the theatre you want to visit, head there to buy tickets directly.
2. Buy directly from the theatre online
Smaller local theatres are unlikely to charge admin or processing fees, so buy direct.
3. Print at home or collect tickets at the box office
You can sometimes avoid fees (and certainly postage) by printing tickets at home, or collecting them at the box office either before you see the show, or on the day. Check whether you need to print them out at all, some you may be able to just show on a phone – especially if they’re barcoded ones.
4. Buy for several shows in one transaction
Buying as a group you tend to have to do over the phone, but if you’re buying more than one ticket, you might find booking fees work out less. Some websites charge a %, but others charge a flat fee per transaction, so you might not have to pay as much by bulk booking.
5. Sign up to theatre newsletters
Individual theatres, ticket booking groups and general theatre websites will all have newsletters. These will let you know when there are sales, and if there are early bird booking discounts. London Theatre Direct is a great site to sign up to. There are also apps like Stagedoor which show the latest information and offers.
6. Look out for Kids Week
August (yes it’s a month, not really a week) is Kids Week which means children go free to a large number of theatre performances. These are mostly in London, and each year different shows take part. The big show tickets get snapped up fast, but you can always find a ticket at some point if you’re more flexible on dates. Do check that the buying a family group of tickets actually works out better value than buying tickets at another time. In the past, we paid about £10 less for better seated tickets for 4 people than if we’d booked through Kids Week. But there are good deals to be had. We’ve seen Horrible Histories, The Gruffalo, The Tiger who came to Tea, and School of Rock through Kids Week.
7. Flash sales
See point 5. You’ll find there are some flash sales through the year, e.g new year sales can have great offers, and Black Friday sometimes has great deals.
8. Sign up to young theatre goers memberships
If you’re young (usually from teens to 26, or students), look out for young person memberships at different theatres. By signing up to these, you may be able to get hold of very discounted tickets for specific shows and you can often get a second ticket for a friend if they also fulfil the criteria. Some tickets can only be bought in person, some on the day, but if you live in the same town or city as the theatre they could be good savings.
9. Rush tickets / Day seats
If you live in London or go regularly there and are able to quickly pick up tickets and go, then try for day seats. These are unsold seats or return tickets that go on sale at heavily reduced prices which you have to queue for. Find out online or ring up in advance to find out when people start queuing.
Try TodayTix if you’d rather do it online, but be warned, the tickets get snapped up really quickly.
10. Leicester Square Tkts booth
If you’re in London get down to the TKTS booth early to get tickets for that day. These can be half price, but check that you can’t get them at a better price before buying.
11. Try local theatres for cheaper tickets
So many shows go on tour after they’ve been in the West End, so why not try booking locally rather than going up to London. You might not get the biggest stars performing, but the shows are likely to be just as good as the original casts. You might also get a better view for a lower cost, especially if the theatre is smaller or further north in the UK where generally prices are cheaper.
12. Buy early bird tickets
Don’t sit around and wait for ages before booking (hence getting signed up to upcoming seasons programmes and newsletters). Some theatres may do early bird offers (especially key for festival goers). Our local ATG has even been offering some tickets for all shows at only £13 a seat. Even with ticket fees, that’s a bargain, wherever you sit!
Keep your fingers crossed and get lucky
13. Sign up for ticket lotteries
Several of the big shows have ticket lotteries. You can sign up directly on the show websites and choose the dates a couple of weeks out that you want to apply for. If you win, you get an email which you have a certain time to respond to and book your tickets. Lotteries are for 2-4 tickets, usually great seats for big price reductions. You can sometimes buy additional full price tickets on top if there’s more of you wanting to go. If you don’t win one week, you can try again the next week.
14. Join secret ticket websites
These are mostly used for seat filling so if you join any of these schemes you are asked to not share details or the fact you’ve come to the theatre with these discounts. Some of the schemes you need to pay an annual membership fee, others are free tickets but you pay an admin fee, but most are just very cheap tickets. If you’re in London you’re at an advantage. Some ask that you attend so many shows a year otherwise you may have your membership retracted. Others give better discounts to those people who attend more shows. So make sure you read the terms before signing up. Also, not all are open to the public, so you either need to get on a waiting list or find an invite only link.
I’ve used See Film First a lot when I lived in Oxford and Buckinghamshire, mostly for cinema previews and I get emails now mostly about music concerts. But I don’t live in any areas near the events now.
Central Tickets sounds like a good option if you’re more into theatre. But it is mostly London based.
15. Enter competitions
If you’re a lucky person, why not look out for competitions for theatre productions. Local competitions give you a better chance of winning, and obviously the more competitions you enter the higher the chance of being the person pulled out of the hat. But I’ve had theatre weekends in the Savoy, as well as winning more local ticket giveaways in the past. Just keep an eye on the T&Cs in case there are date restrictions, or to check if anything on top of tickets is included like travel or a meal.
16. Look out for extras
In particular for children’s or family shows, and in smaller regional theatres, look out for extras to top up with. Some shows include free workshops to take part in before the show – I’ve known opera, acting, dance, music workshops. Some also provide meet the cast or writer/choreographer where they might do Q&A sessions afterwards, or beforehand. They book up fast, so make sure you get on the list quickly if they’re available.
Discounted tickets are a treat if you can get them, but there are reasons why tickets can be pricy as explained here in a breakdown of costs of putting on theatre productions.
Before coronavirus hit, 2020 was going to be my year of theatre; I had booked 6 shows across musicals, dance and concerts. One moved to online, 2 were totally cancelled, 1 I’ve been to now after 2 postponed dates (the 25th Anniversary Riverdance), 1 was pushed back to 2023, and the other is still currently unknown. But theatres are now open again, mostly without social distancing (although most recommend proof of vaccination or negative lateral flow tests, and masks). There are plenty of options to look forward to across UK theatres.
And another tip before you go – not sure which seats to choose? Then try using Seatplan with seat views of the stage photos across different theatres. Especially handy for booking rush seats or through lotteries, because you’ll be able to see whether it’s worth getting cheap seats or not. Always take your own seat view tickets when you go to the theatre, because you can upload them too to help out others.
Are you a big theatre goer? How do you go about reducing some of the costs and finding cheaper theatre tickets?