How To Get Cheap Theatre Tickets in London
Last Updated: 26th March 2021 | Main image: Kilyan Sockalingum/Unsplash
Never mind breaking a leg – it can cost you an arm and a leg to see some of London’s top theatre shows. So to clear things up, we’ve created this simple guide on where and how to track down cheap theatre tickets in London:
TKTS Ticket Booth
TKTS is the Official London Theatre ticket booth and can be found nestled in Leicester Square. By rocking up, in person only, you can bag yourselves last-minute and discounted tickets to performances over the next three days. Note that the last minute tickets won’t necessarily be discounted but are a good way to bag seats to more popular shows – they can, however, end up being more expensive than buying directly from the theatre, thanks to the TKTS booking fee. There are great savings to be had, though – and the constantly changing list of shows and prices can be checked on their website beforehand (handy to to before you make the trip into central London). Queues can be long, so give yourself plenty of time before the show starts.
Details: Open Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-4:30pm | The Lodge, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7DE
Most West End theatres have a few seats held back everyday for those willing to turn up, in person, when they open (typically 10am). For popular shows, queues have been known to start as early as 6am but there’s always a sense of camaraderie in-line. It’s London, so queueing etiquette is rigorously enforced. People are more than happy to hold your place, should you need some caffeine-induced stimulation or the inevitable toilet break, and sometimes there’s even a joint crossword or other communal activity. A bit like life though, it depends entirely on who you get stuck with.
Most theatres operate a rule limiting two tickets per customer, which means you can’t queue up for your whole family – but it doesn’t mean you can’t send your spouse, or that irritating morning person you know, if waking up before the sun is something you simply can’t abide.
If waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t really your style, and you’re happy to change your evening plans on the fly, then the returns queue might be more your speed. As any GCSE English student will tell you, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But someone else’s loss could be your gain: sold-out shows will often get tickets returned and the theatre will then desperately try to sell them on. If you queue up a couple of hours before the show starts then you could be a recipient (and potentially get a ticket for less than you were prepared to pay). It’s a real gamble, this one – the price and quantity of tickets depends entirely on who’s returning them – but it’s fairly easy to swing by the theatre, wait for a bit, then head off and do something else if you don’t win.
Another gambler’s go-to is the lottery. Big on Broadway, this New York tradition is becoming more and more familiar here in London. The premise is simple: you turn up a few hours before the draw, stick your names in the hat, then return an hour before curtain up (kick-off, for the uninitiated) to see whether you’re one of the lucky winners. Lottery tickets do go as low as £10 but your chances are slim. Each show will have its own times, terms and conditions, all of which can be found on their websites.
Shows currently operating lotteries: Hamilton, The Book of Mormon
Royal Court: 10p Standing Tickets
© Helen Murray
Really after a bargain? You can see a show for 10p at the Royal Court if you don’t mind standing the whole way through. The views are, predictably, pretty restricted – but if you’re desperate to catch a popular show or want to see something multiple times, it’s a great option. The very limited number of standing tickets go on sale an hour before curtain up, and you might want to ring ahead as they’re sometimes not available for certain productions.
Pay-What-You-Can at the Arcola
Trailblazing increased access to theatre, Hackney’s Arcola keeps back a few tickets every Tuesday evening as ‘pay what you can’. The average donation is £5, but there’s no judgement here. It’s all first-come, first-served, with a limit of two tickets per person -and queues often start forming before 6pm. Your best bet is to head along early in the run, before the reviews come out and shows get popular.
If you’d rather delve for discounts from the comfort of your duvet, then the internet, as always, has options. Sometimes there’ll be a great deal, other times they’ll inform you of a saving only for you to realise they were removing a booking fee you didn’t need to pay in the first place. So, a little extra research is always advised online to be sure you’re getting a good deal, but your best chance of saving a few bucks can be found at these sites:
National Theatre: Friday Rush
Every Friday at 1pm the National Theatre releases a limited allocation of £20 tickets for their various shows across all three of their performance spaces. It’s a great way to see the nation’s best without forking out and – better yet – the releases often include tickets for sold out shows. You can only book the tickets online, and like queueing up, they’re limited to two per customer -HOWEVER *insider tip alert* if you open loads of tabs on your computer and enter the Friday Rush on each one, you’ll massively increase your chances of emerging victorious.
Donmar Warehouse: £10 Standing Tickets
If you’re feeling limber, you can catch shows at the Donmar for a tenner by standing at the back. They go on sale the week before each performance, online and in person, and are a useful fallback for getting into popular shows that are quickly selling out.
The Old Vic: £10 Previews
The first five performances of every show at the Old Vic are hugely discounted, with half the seats in the auditorium going for £10. They’re released five weeks before the show opens, and it’s worth signing up to their mailing list to get alerts for this, as they’re understandably popular. Since you’re booking in before press night, you won’t be able to get tickets to shows that have already got the thumbs up from critics – but you’ll be some of the first in to see what could turn out to be the season’s hottest ticket. Plus, the Old Vic has seriously high calibre productions, often with big names – so it’s not exactly a gamble.
ALSO NOTE: Regular theatre-goers who want to save a penny or two can sign up to OV Extra, which gets you 10% off tickets, a 15% discount in the bar, ‘surprises’ and free tickets to ‘Voices Off’ events for a fiver a month.
Battersea Arts Centre: Pay What You Can
Since becoming a fully Relaxed Venue, Battersea Arts Centre has been thinking about how they can improve access to theatre even further. So from now on, every single one of their performances is structured around a Pay What You Can model. When booking online, you’ll see a sliding scale between £1 and £40 – so when you’re feeling flush again, you can pay over the recommended price to support the system and help others access great theatre.
Royal Court: £12 Monday Tickets
In a longstanding tradition, this Chelsea theatre releases a selection of £12 tickets for Monday night shows each week. They’re put on sale every Monday at 9am for that evening’s performances in the Upstairs and Downstairs theatre spaces. They go quickly, so they recommend creating an account with the Royal Court first to allow you to secure your seats more speedily.
Southwark Playhouse: Pay-As-You-Go
Borough’s top-shelf fringe theatre has a different kind of member scheme – you can pay £60 upfront to get a tab of 5 tickets. You can use them whenever you like – it never expires – so it’s not just one for locals, and you’ll be looking at around a £15 saving on each ticket.
London Coliseum: £30 Secret Seats
The London Coliseum – home to the English National Opera and English National Ballet – has a ‘secret seat’ system that allows you to buy a £30 unallocated seat for a performance and get an upgrade on the night. It means you could end up in the third row of the stalls, or up in the dress circle, where tickets usually cost between £50 and £150. You can even book a pair of tickets and they’ll still sit you together.
Young Vic: £10 Lucky Dip and £5 Lottery
The Young Vic’s lucky dip tickets are essentially standing tickets (and a bargain at a tenner). But they also contain the element of surprise – you’ll be shuffled into a holding pen and if any seats are untaken, you might find yourself in the best seats in the house just as the curtain goes up. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to sway your chances (turning up early or offering sweets to the ushers doesn’t help), and you probably won’t get seated next to your friends (if at all) – but if you’re flexible and just keen to see a particular show, it’s a useful trick to know. The Young Vic also have £5 lottery tickets available for the opening night of shows, which go on sale for a week beforehand – sign up to their newsletters, or download the TodayTix app, to stay in the know. Which brings us to…
Theatres soon got wise to the fact that an online lottery means more entrants, which ultimately means more details for the marketing department to get hold of. No bad thing as for the price of your email address you can enter without even getting out of bed. TodayTix operates most of the online lotteries (and is also a good source of tickets themselves); others have their own specific sites – but a quick google of “show name + lottery” will take you where you need to go.
Shows with online lotteries: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Book of Mormon, Matilda, School of Rock
DISCOUNT BOX OFFICES
London Theatre Direct
With discounts on Musicals, Plays, Dance and Opera, London Theatre Direct’s list is absolutely comprehensive and a great place to start your search. Whether you end up purchasing from them or just get a sense of price, it’s certainly worth a quick glance.
Not only for those cutting it fine for their tickets – though particularly good if you are – lastminute.com has a whole host of shows on their roster and, predictably, some very good deals for last minute events.
A very similar set up to London Theatre Direct. LondonBoxOffice.co.uk lists all their shows, with their relevant discounts and, if nothing else, acts as a great yard stick for prices available.
Discount Theatre Tickets
Like ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Discount Theatre Tickets has tickets, to the theatre, at a discount. You’ll find most major commercial shows listed with some sort of discount and helpfully arranged by genre.
PAPERING THE HOUSE
The holy grail of cheap theatre tickets, ‘papering the house’ is an increasingly common practice among London theatres (and cinemas, and music venues). Essentially, the theatre doles out free tickets to a trusted network of discreet members (i.e., you) to help get bums on seats on quiet nights. That way, it ensures comedies have a full house of chuckling audience members on press night, or just fills seats that would be otherwise empty – with the hope of boosting future sales through increased word of mouth. Meanwhile, you get to see a whole load of top shows for free, and often during previews. Basically, it works out nicely for everyone. The only caveats are that you’ll often only get a few days notice, the tickets can be snapped up quickly, and there’s always a risk that they might rescind the offer an hour of two before the performance. Plus, if you claim tickets then fail to turn up a few times in a row, you’ll lose your trusted status and risk getting booted out the club.
There’s a long waiting list for most programmes, but get your name down here: Central Tickets, Show Film First, On The List, Seat Filler Network
YOUNG THEATRE DISCOUNTS
If you’re within a certain age bracket, there’s a whole load of cheap tickets with your name on them from theatres big and small. Here are the top ticket deals and young memberships available:
30 & UNDER:
- Sadler’s Wells | £10 tickets to dance shows at Sadler’s Wells and The Peacock Theatre.
29 & UNDER:
- London Coliseum | 16-29 year-olds get £10-£30 tickets under their free membership scheme
25 & UNDER:
- National Theatre | £5 tickets for 16-18, £10 for 19-25, plus café, bar & shop discount
- Almeida Theatre | £5 tickets, plus 25% off food and drink in the café
- Yard Theatre | Another gamble, but if they have unsold seats on the night, you can get a £5 ticket – plus, locals get 30% off with a Yard Card
- Young Vic | £10 tickets
- Barbican | £5 cinema tickets inc. new releases, £5-15 theatre tickets (with no booking fees), plus access to creative workshops
- Royal Court | £15 tickets, priority booking for £12 tickets every Monday, plus 10% discount on drinks & playtexts
- Lyric Hammersmith | A £10 annual Young Lyric membership gets you £5 tickets, cheap (or free) workshops & masterclasses, rehearsal space & opportunities to perform
- Donmar Theatre | A monthly ticket lottery that offers pairs of free tickets
- Royal Opera House | Ballet & opera ticket deals, inc. £5 tickets, free performances, £10 standby tickets & more
- Young Vic | £10 tickets
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