Like a lot of things in life, buying a theatre ticket is a bit of a lottery. Advance publicity is such that it’s quite possible to be made aware of productions months, or even sometimes more than a year, before the first night. So the question arises: How far ahead are you prepared to commit yourself? Do you plan holidays, weddings and other major events in your life before or after buying theatre tickets?
And of course, buying a ticket for a play is quite akin to buying the proverbial pig in a poke. You may find that the tickets you’ve looked after for so long turns out to be for a performance that you feel like walking out of at the end of the first act. You never know.
Much of the long lead-in time to many plays is because of the hectic schedules of the many TV and film stars who feel their acting career is not complete without treading the boards of the London stage. The pulling power of these celebrities is inestimable; they frequently perform for what is for them a low wage, yet the run is likely to be sold out and sold out very quickly simply because their name is on the bill. No wonder theatre producers are anxious to acquire their services. The Young Vic website faltered and tickets were sold in record time when it was announced that Gillian Anderson was to play Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Martin Freeman, of Sherlock and Hobbit fame, has attracted adoring audiences to his portrayal of Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios. And apparently, visitors to the Barbican website were told that there were about number 30,000 in a queue when they attempted to buy tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet more than a year ahead!
And with the rise of star power in the theatre has come the inexorable rise of ticket prices. To be fair, non West End houses have shown a little more restraint in their pricing (although it must be remembered that theatres like the National are lucky recipients of subsidies), but even community theatres like the Almeida, Hampstead and the Tricycle have had a considerable price hike. Whereas it doesn’t seem that long ago it was only for lavish musicals theatres charged £50 or more for a top-price seat, this is now, more often than not, the second or third tier price level for the majority of performances in the West End. And at a recent Kevin Spacey one-man show about the American lawyer Clarence Darrow, the top-price seats were over £100! This to me does seem rather disproportionate considering what you could get for that princely sum. When you add to the price of a ticket the extras entailed with a night at the theatre, travel there, eating out, then you wonder why so many people choose to go to the theatre at all.
Yet a recent poll revealed that more people go to the theatre than to football matches and that attendances by a younger audience is on the rise. And all over the country there’s always the option of going to smaller, fringe venues where the quality can often be high and the prices low. Paying a fortune for a performance doesn’t guarantee a brilliant experience, and you can be awestruck when you’ve spent just a few pounds on a theatre ticket. As I said, life’s a bit of a lottery!
Jeannette Nelson, arts critic with special interest in theatre
Currently playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith is an excellent first play by former teacher Vivienne Franzmann, called Mogadishu.
Set in a sink school, it is fast moving, witty and poignant. The central character is a liberal teacher (always write about what you know!) who is wrongly charged with assault and racial abuse. A group of excellent young actors play the schoolkids in whose hands her fate lies. Unlike other reviews I’ve read of this play, I’m not about to give away the plot – if it were a book it would be a real page turner. This is certainly one to catch
The National’s Frankenstein has to be one of the most written about productions of the year so far and has the added twist of the two leads alternating in the roles of Dr Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist, and his creation, often in B horror movies referred to as the monster, but here, in a text more in keeping with Mary Shelley’s novel, simply called the creature.
Everything you may have read about Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller is true – they are truly superb in the lead roles.
The lighting is electrifying, as is the set and the production, directed by Danny Boyle. My quibble is that the adaptation of the text by Nick Dear is a little clunky and some of the acting of the rest of a cast somewhat wooden. But nothing can really take away from the power of the piece.
Not surprisingly it has sold out, even for the next set of performances, but will be shown as a one-off in selected cinemas as now happens quite frequently with National Theatre productions.
Jeannette Nelson, Theatre Critic
Jeannette is a bit of a culture vulture who enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.