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The Wonderful West-End - getting the most out of your visit
Theatre in London - Tips & Comments
Member Name: bondgirlk8
Theatre in London - Tips & Comments
Date: 24/10/08, updated on 02/11/09 (579 review reads)
Advantages: The best theatre in the world
Disadvantages: Can be expensive...but WORTH IT!
If you read my five top musicals review recently, you'll know that I am just a little bit fond of the theatre. You'll also know I live in London. London Theatre is, as a result, the topic which I most regularly inflict on my less than enthusiastic friends. Hopefully I can put it to use for a change.
So, you are either visiting London or you live in the area and you fancy a bit of a taste of the West End. So where dooyoo (ha-har) start?
When to go
If you are in reasonably easy reach of London, or are taking time off to come and visit the city, you would be very well advised to avoid the weekends. I've found Mondays and Wednesdays to be the days which are less popular, therefore making it easier to get hold of tickets, and also the days where good discounts can be found. Wednesday matinee is a great option if you are in London for a holiday, or you do not have work commitments on that day.
London is a tourist destination, and the theatre is a major draw. Our key tourism from UK residents tends to occur via Saturday day trips, or weekend breaks. This means that the hardest performance to get tickets to for a top-selling high profile show would obviously be the Saturday Matinee - it being achievable to come to London for the day, see the show, and have plenty of time to catch your train back home. Saturday evenings would probably be the next most popular choice, followed closely by Friday nights - these being the choice times of the 'long-weekenders'.
The currently less well known but increasingly popular slot of the Sunday Matinee has now been introduced for some shows, Brief Encounter and The Lion King included. This could be well worth investigating if you are tied to weekends, and would probably make for an all-round calmer experience than the classic Saturday day-trip.
Buying your tickets
First, you have to decide what you want. This is important as the 'Plan of Action' will depend very much on your answer to this question. Do you have a specific production in mind that you are burning to see? Or is it more that you fancy a night at the theatre and don't mind choosing from a (slightly) limited number of productions.
IF YOU ARE REASONABLY FLEXIBLE:
Unless you are absolutely committed to a particular production that you want to see and nothing else would ever do, then the best option for you would to be to get your tickets at the last minute: the actual day you want to go standard of last minute!
This is best achieved via visiting the tkts booth in Leicester Square, where half price tickets can be purchased for same day performances. This is not the only ticket merchant in the area, nor the only one which offers same day or 'discounted' tickets, but it is the only Official booth supported by the Society of London Theatre. It is well established and also has a booth in Times Square, should you ever take a trip to Broadway!
Tickets are sold from the booth at exactly HALF the price of the ticket, and in my experience the seats allocated are very good. You don't get to choose your seats, but they always seem to sell top-price tickets (at half price) so this isn't a problem.
The booth is located on the south side of the garden in Leicester Square near the big Odeon cinema. It is the only free-standing building actually within the Square so is easy to find. The nearest Underground stations are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
There are two windows in the booth, one for matinees and one for evening performances, so you need to make sure you queue for the right one. There is a notice board outside each (matinee board outside matinee window, evening board outside evening window) showing which performances are available. There is an individual (big) card for each show for which tickets are available. The card will specify:
- Name of show (big letters)
- Genre e.g. play, musical, comedy etc. the cards are also colour coded by genre
- Theatre at which it is playing
- Time of performance (matinees usually start between 2pm and 4pm, evening performances usually start between 7pm and 8:30pm)
- Price of the ticket
You can see all the cards together and make an informed decision about what you want to see.
Although all shows in the West End will not be featured on any particular day, the selection is very wide and there is always something that will appeal. The only exclusions are usually very new musicals - e.g. don't expect to come down in January and see the new production of Oliver! using tkts, or very, very popular productions e.g. it is unlikely you will get tickets at all for the Lion King, and today Billy Elliott and Hairspray tickets are available, but only at full price.
The tkts website is very helpful (link in resources section at the bottom of the review) and contains a section which details everything that is on sale today and the price. Of course, as this is updated daily, there is always the risk that the production you want might be there one day and not another, but generally, it doesn't change much. The chances are, if they have it today, they'll have it tomorrow.
Leicester Square tkts booth opening times:
* Monday - Saturday 10:00-19:00
* Sunday - 12 noon to 15.00
There is also a tkts booth recently opened in the Brent Cross shopping Centre in North London. The opening hours are the same as those for Leicester Square and it operates in much the same way. Full details of what it has to offer can be found on the website (see resources section at end of review).
IF YOU HAVE YOUR HEART SET ON A SPECIFIC PRODUCTION:
If you are dead set on a particular production, you might have to be prepared to:
1. Explore more ways of getting your tickets
2. Have an idea as to how much is too much for a ticket
3. Be prepared to wait if necessary. If a production is new and popular and you are restricted to Saturday matinees you might have to wait a while to get tickets of the standard you want, e.g. Sound of Music got massively booked up following the success of the Maria programme, making it necessary to book months in advance if you want a Saturday afternoon performance.
4. If you don't want to wait, find a way of getting to London for a mid-week performance
So here's the plan of action:
1. Check out the tkts website - you never know, the thing you want to see might be something that is regularly sold here, possibly making the gamble worth it to secure half price top view tickets.
2. Are you a teacher? If so, you can get access to many discounts on London, and to some extent national, theatre tickets via Mousetrap Theatre Projects, see http://www.mousetrap.org.uk/ for more information
3. Internet price comparisons - good old shop-bots never fail to impress me. Whack the production through a few and you are sure to find a good deal.
4. If all else has failed, you still want to see it and don't mind paying full price, it's time to phone the theatre direct. Worth comparing this as part of point 3 anyway as without agencies taking a cut, it can, now and again, work out the most cost effective way
5. If you are local, stand-by tickets can be worth investigating as they can be picked up at reduced prices.
6. If you don't mind standing, many of the theatres have standing space at the back where you can watch the production (with a good view over everyone's heads), for sometimes as little as £5. These are often not publicised so you might have to enquire at the theatre itself, but can often be snapped up on the day of the show.
First off, make sure you know which theatre your chosen production is playing at, and where this is located. There are around 50 major theatres in the West End alone, extend this to smaller theatres and those not strictly in the 'West End', then that makes for rather a lot of theatres! It is easy to mix up the Apollo and the Victoria Apollo for instance - currently this would mean attempting to see Rain Man, and turning up to see Wicked. Don't do it, read your ticket carefully.
If you are not familiar with London, it is worth investing in a proper A-Z, these can be picked up relatively cheaply and the street index gives them a major advantage over fold-up maps. These usually also contain a specific map in the back dedicated purely to the locations of the theatres.
It is a good idea to check out the tube, bus, walking and taxi options open to you whilst planning your visit. Don't just assume they will be working though, especially if your visit is taking place over the weekend. There are regularly part or complete line or station closures during the weekend as this is when the majority of the tube repair works are carried out.
Check out the Transport for London website prior to your journey (see resources section at end of review). Not only will this show you the best route to take and provide an estimate of time, but also contains details of all planned closures and a live feed for travel updates and any delays currently occurring on the network.
Remember to allow plenty of time for your journey, especially if you are reliant on public transport where unexpected problems can cause delays to your journey. If you turn up late, the theatres won't let you in to the auditorium until a suitable break in the performance, and when you do get let in you'll annoy everyone already in the theatre. Leave it to someone else to do that.
Getting the most out of your visit
This is a few other little dos and don'ts that, in my opinion, should help you to get the most out of your theatre visit:
DO check out the deals in the near-by restaurants. There are thousands of restaurants in London, and the area around your theatre is likely to be littered with many of them all competing for your business. There are often good pre-theatre or post-theatre meal deals which can help make the most of your day/evening out.
DON'T eat too much! Eat something nice, yes, but you don't want something too heavy directly before going to the theatre. Most of the theatres are quite old and were designed when people were a bit smaller. Even the more modern ones are not the best places to sit if you are uncomfortably full.
DO place an order for interval drinks at the bar before the start of the performance, if you think you might want them that is. You probably will at least want a glass of water, especially in the summer. The theatres hold a lot of people and make use of a lot of electrical equipment for strong lighting etc., so can get very hot. By placing the order at the start, your drink will be all paid for, poured and waiting in the bar for you at the interval. This is the only sensible way of making sure you have time to actually consume your drink before Act II begins.
DON'T expect to get a seat in the bar. The bar spaces are generally very cramped and if there is seating it will be extremely limited.
DO go to the toilet in plenty of time before the start, especially if you are female. Like with most places, there are never enough, and the queues can be horrific. Same goes at the interval - run for it!
DO go and find your seat at least a good ten minutes before the start. Not only will you avoid the mad rush when the bells ring, it also gives you a chance to appreciate the building in which you sit. It also builds up the excitement - you can feel the whole room ringing with anticipation. Modern theatre has, on the whole, turned it's back on the whole opening of the curtain thing at the start of the play. If the theatre has one, it is more likely to be already open, with some kind of pre-set on the stage. Don't miss the chance to have a good look at this and a little glimpse of the style that you can expect from the production you are about to see. If you are really lucky, there may even be some pre-show action: basically 'stuff what happens' either on stage or in the auditorium, which isn't strictly part of the production, but is intended to be witnessed as the audience arrives. This sets the tone for the performance and can be highly entertaining - personally, I wouldn't miss a minute of it.
DO enjoy it, recommend it and come back! Help the theatre live on so that future generations can still experience this wonderful experience. Don't let live performance die.
BOOK: I have an excellent book called The London Theatre Guide. This book tells you a little bit about each of the theatres, and contains a seating map for each theatre which is invaluable if you are booking tickets over the phone and want to see what the seat references translate to in practice.
The ISBN number for this book is 1-902910-08-7 and can be purchased on Amazon or specialist theatre bookshops
HELPFUL WEBSITES: The below websites are helpful when researching your theatre trip:
www.londontheatre.co.uk/ - What's on guide
www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/ - Society of London Theatre
http://www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts/ - TKTS booth
http://www.mousetrap.org.uk/ - Mousetrap Theatre Projects
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/ - Transport for London, bus/tube times and live feed
http://www.walkit.com/ - Travelling by foot in London, directions, estimated time, calories burned etc. very handy if you are staying locally.
http://www.offtolondon.com/- London in general, where to stay etc.
© BondgirlK8 October 2008
Summary: I hope this helps make the most of your visit
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