Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Cheap London: How to see West End theatre for less!


After my first Cheap London post, titled 5 ways to go to the cinema for free, today I will be sharing some of my tips on how to see normally budget-shattering musicals and plays in London's famous West End theatre district at a fraction of the cost!

1. My ultimate tip, and the reason this post is being published this week, is the glorious West End Live, taking place the weekend of 20-21 June. Now in its 11th year, this completely free event showcases some of the best the West End has to offer spread out over two musical-filled days in Trafalgar Square. This is without a doubt the most anticipated weekend of the year for stagey people, but there is a lot to enjoy for casual theatre-goers too. And they also cater to children with fun events; so it's great for the entire family.

There are smaller similar events through the year, such as the Olivier Awards live show in Covent Garden and West End Busking, and there's even a taster of WEL in Victoria this coming Wednesday 17 June, but none are quite as spectacular as West End Live itself. This year marks my 7th visit to this glorious event and to get in the mood, have a look at my blog post of the 2013 showcase, which is filled with pictures and videos. Bring water, food, comfy shoes, a sunhat and all your stagey friends - and get ready for a brilliant West End weekend.

2. If after watching teaser performances at West End Live your list of shows and plays you REALLY want to see has grown exponentially but your theatre budget hasn't, then day seats might be just the thing for you. If you're American you may know them as rush seats instead, but basically these are tickets you can get from the box office of the theatre on the day of the performance itself.

Day seats are not a given though and each production has its own system, but it's well worth looking into it. Most of the time it's listed on the show's website and if not, just pop by the theatre box office to ask. Examples of day seats, include £15 front row tickets to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, £25 for Miss Saigon and just £5 for lucky 16-25 year-olds for Matilda the Musical. Some theatres sell a set number of tickets, other times it's simply best available. One notable exception is The Book of Mormon, which is so popular that they have a lottery system instead (both in person and online). 

3. Under 26s aren't only super lucky with the Matilda day seats, but there are a host of offers to tempt the young 'uns to the theatre. Like with day seats the offers vary, so it's worth checking the websites of each individual theatre and/or production you're interested in, but some well-known schemes include £5 tickets with the Entry Pass at the National Theatre, Young Barbican at (you guessed it) The Barbican and £12 tickets with the Old Vic's Under 25s Club.

4. While the West End gets all the attention, if you venture to just outside the border of the famous Shaftesbury Avenue there's a host of off-West End venues that are instantly a lot more affordable. Some of my favourites are The Almeida Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Union Theatre, Charing Cross Theatre, Trafalgar Studios, Arts Theatre, St James Theatre and Jermyn Street Theatre. And even further afield, but still very accessible from central London, are Greenwich Theatre, Richmond Theatre and New Wimbledon Theatre.

5. My final tip is National Theatre live, which isn't only a great way of seeing theatre if travelling to the West End isn't an option for you, or a production is so popular that you didn't manage to get any tickets, but you can also get a front-row, unrestricted seat to some of the best productions for a snippet of the top price you'd pay for a seat in the theatre. True, for cinema some of the broadcasts are perhaps a bit at the top end of the ticket price, but if you remind yourself that you're paying for top quality theatre, then it's really a bargain.

And my personal favourite thing about NT Live? Getting to watch a production again, even years after it has closed in London. I find it wonderful to have the chance to rewatch outstanding performances I've seen live on stage on the big screen; it makes me appreciate the art of theatre even more.

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I hope you find these tips helpful, if you have your own advice to help others go to the theatre for less in the West End and beyond, then do drop a line in the comments. And if you've used any of the above to see a show or play at a more affordable price I'd love it if you could let me know about your experience as well.

In future posts I'll cover museums (some known, some not so much) and much more! If there's anything in particular you'd like me to give you some tips on for discounts or freebies in London, just leave a comment below.

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