Theatre on a Shoestring

As a student of limited funds, I have lost count of the number of times people have asked me how I afford to feed my expensive theatre habit. Admittedly a fair number of my theatre trips are facilitated by free press tickets, but when I do fork out for a night at the theatre I usually manage to keep costs down.

Going to the theatre can break the bank, but if you know how to shop around for the cheapest tickets there are plenty of bargains up for grabs. In the past I have helped a number of friends to find good deals and thought that it would be useful to compile some advice in a handy feature for anyone in search of cheap tickets. At a time when we are all feeling the squeeze, these money-saving hints are applicable not only to students but to anyone wanting to enjoy some theatre on a budget. So read on for my top ten tips on how to satisfy your theatrical needs on a shoestring.

1. Use your youth

Theatres are always desperate to bring in young audiences and if you are under 26 then you shouldn’t be afraid to exploit your best money-saving asset – your youth. Arts Council England’s A Night Less Ordinary scheme may be winding down as a result of government funding cuts, but there are still free tickets available for under 26s up until March, so get in quick to avoid missing out. Even after A Night Less Ordinary ends, many theatres run their own schemes for young people, so always check out the theatre’s website or ask at the box office if they offer any discounted tickets for students or young people.

One of the best schemes out there is the National Theatre’s Entry Pass, which offers £5 tickets to all productions, reduced mates rates for under 25s and several exclusive events for members. Similar schemes also exist at the Barbican, the Donmar Warehouse and the Old Vic, and theatres such as the Royal Court and the Finborough Theatre offer discounts for young people and students. This list is far from exhaustive, so it is helpful to keep an eye on youth aimed websites like A Younger Theatre and TheatreFix to stay up to date on all the latest offers and discounts.

2. Go to a preview

Most productions will have a series of previews to make sure that everything is running smoothly before the press night and tickets to these performances will usually be sold at a discounted price. It is worth bearing in mind that the show will not be perfect at this stage, but it is a great opportunity to have a night at the theatre for a reasonable price and have a sneak peak at a new production before the press and the rest of the punters get in.

3. Book through discount websites

There are discount websites cropping up everywhere offering cheap theatre tickets, but it’s vital to make sure that you are getting your tickets from a reputable and genuine source. One of the best websites is lastminute.com, which offers discounted tickets for all the main West End shows as well as meal and hotel packages if you’re looking for something extra on a special occasion. Tickets to most London shows can also be bought through Whatsonstage.com, with some good deals available for mid-week performances, but steer clear if you want to go on a weekend as there are sometimes hefty booking fees for the more popular nights.

4. Look out for seasonal offers

At different times of the year there are sometimes limited periods of discounts available at certain London theatres. At the moment the annual Get Into London Theatre promotion is running, a great way to see theatre cheaply at the beginning of the year as well as getting involved in various events and activities. The offers are available until 18 February so there is still plenty of time to take advantage of the amazing deals on offer.

5. Go to a mid-week performance

This may be difficult for many people due to various commitments, but if you can get to the theatre in the middle of the week it pays off. As well as the greater availability of discounts, there is also a good chance of being upgraded to better seats if you buy tickets in the upper circle or balcony. This is far from guaranteed, and I would still advise theatregoers not to take this gamble unless they would be happy with the cheaper (and often restricted view) seats at the back of the theatre, but in my experience I have been upgraded five or six times on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

6. Become a friend of the theatre

This applies more to regional theatres than the West End, but if you have a local theatre that you attend regularly then it can be worthwhile to sign up for a membership. The benefits can include free and discounted tickets, priority booking and member only post-show talks with cast and creative teams. For those looking for similar deals without the restriction of one theatre, the Whatsonstage.com Theatre Club offers all this and more for various different London-based productions at the cost of £30 a year (or £35 if paying by debit or credit card).

7. Get a deal on the day

If you have the freedom to go up to London for the day and do not have a specific show in mind then this can be a good option. There are various deals on offer at the TKTS booth and other vendors in Leicester Square, though once again be wary about who exactly you are buying your tickets from. It is also important to do your research and make sure that you are actually getting a discount off the normal price. As well as discount ticket booths, there can be discounts found direct from the box office, along with the possibility of returns for popular shows. For students there is yet another benefit of youth at shows such as Wicked where they offer cheap best available tickets on the day for those able to produce student ID.

8. Know what you are buying

When shopping around, one of the best ways of assessing whether you are really getting a good deal is to find out exactly what you are likely to get from the seats on offer. The website Theatre Monkey has used the experiences of real theatregoers to give advice about the best and worst value seats in all the major West End theatres, with helpful colour coded seating charts and comments from members of the public. Whenever booking tickets from anywhere I always refer to this website to help me decide if the tickets are worth the amount that the vendor wants to charge.

9. Go directly to the theatre

If you are really struggling to find any offers, as will often be the case if you want to go on a weekend, it can be best to book directly through the theatre rather than using a middleman such as Ticketmaster. This is not always possible as increasing numbers of theatres are now booking only through external ticket websites, but tickets for productions at all Delfont Mackintosh theatres, for example, can be booked through their website. Going direct to the theatre usually means a reduced booking fee or none whatsoever, as well as the guarantee that the tickets you are buying will turn out to be the real deal rather than a scam.

10. Be prepared to give up some time

Dedicated bargain hunting will take more time but it will be worth it if you save the money. Always compare a few websites, look at what deals are available and make sure that you are getting your tickets from a proper source. My tips do not by any means cover every single money-saving trick out there, so see what you can find for yourselves.

Got any other tips for theatregoers in search of a deal? Leave a comment.

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  1. [...] Those looking to tighten the purse strings and still enjoy a trip to the theatre will be pleased to hear the announcement of the return of the Scoop’s festival of free theatre this summer. Audiences can enjoy performances of Around the World in Eighty Days and Mark Ravenhill’s new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Mother at the 1000-seat open-air South Bank venue without spending a single penny. To save even more money, remember to check out my guide to thrifty theatregoing. [...]



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