How To Get Cheap Theatre Tickets in London
Last Updated: 16th July 2019 | Main image: Kilyan Sockalingum/Unsplash
The theatre can be confusing.
Why do actors say “break a leg” when they’re already in a cast?
It can also cost you a leg (and arm) 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: The TKTS Ticket Booth is open Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-4:30pm.
TKTS Ticket Booth | The Lodge, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7DE
Small Island, National Theatre
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.
The Book of Mormon
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: Aladdin, Hamilton, The Book of Mormon
Pay-What-You-Can at the Arcola
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
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.
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
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