Written for The Collective Review, 14 January 2010
Hey, did you see Avatar? Did you see it in 3D? What about IMAX 3D? What did you pay? I paid £12.50, plus online booking fee, to see it in IMAX 3D (at the Odeon in Wimbledon, if anyone’s asking), and I was just one of millions: millions of people who have proven themselves willing to spend £12.50 or thereabouts on an evening’s entertainment.
If you’re one of those millions, you can easily afford a night out at the theatre. Not nearly enough people realise this. The expense is probably the most common excuse for not attending the theatre, but if you can afford a cinema ticket – especially in London, where a peak ticket can cost up to £11 even without IMAX or 3D or other trimmings – you can afford a theatre ticket.
No one’s disputing that the West End is expensive, but there’s more to theatre than Theatreland. And cheaper tickets don’t necessarily equate to a poorer quality product: thanks to a sponsorship deal with Travelex, you can see certain productions at the South Bank’s National Theatre, arguably the UK’s most influential venue, for just £10. Production values at the National rival the commercial West End, and there are no bad seats in the theatre’s vast Olivier space; the £10 view is as good as the £40 view.
A short walk from the National, in an atmospheric vault under London Bridge, you’ll find Southwark Playhouse, whose ‘airline-style’ pricing means you can get tickets for as little as £8 if you book early enough. A little further afield, but still in Zone One, is the Royal Court, which specialises in brand new work by up-and-coming writers; on Mondays, every seat in the house costs just £10. A lot of the Royal Court’s productions end up transferring to the West End, where top price tickets can cost five times that sum – so see them while they’re cheap!
If you want somewhere to spend the money you’ve saved on your ticket, try the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. It’s a tiny but very flexible space located above the Prince Albert Pub. They specialise in new translations of foreign plays, and tickets for the first three performances of every production are just £8.
If 100-seater spaces under bridges or over pubs aren’t your idea of theatre, you could do worse than the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith; their main performance space is an impressively ornate Victorian proscenium arch, complete with stalls, circle and boxes, and they offer £10 tickets for certain performances of every production. Or for a less baroque experience try the Almeida Theatre in Islington – cheapest tickets £8.
As if all those affordable venues weren’t enough, if you’re under 26 you can get into some of the best performances around without paying a penny, thanks to the Arts Council’s A Night Less Ordinary scheme. Just go to www.anightlessordinary.org.uk, type in your postcode and you’ll find a list of theatres, including most of the ones I’ve listed above, that you’re entitled to patronise free of charge.
Understand, too, that this is just a sampler of the venues and deals on offer. Even the West End can be affordable (ish) if you don’t mind visiting the TKTS booth in Leicester Square in person, and I’ve barely begun to cover London’s thriving and criminally overlooked pub theatre scene. So no more excuses: if you can afford a cinema ticket, or three pints in a London pub, you can afford a night out at the theatre.