Theatre isn’t for everyone

This was originally posted in The Stage’s Soapbox, anonymously, in July 2016.

As a financially struggling lover of theatre, I am delighted that I have booked 60 shows in 2016, and my average works out as £12.09 per show. But I am still uncomfortable with the prices I have paid for some shows – £65 for the Old Vic’s King Lear or £47 for Found111’s Bug. It just seems so very indulgent for an industry that goes on about making itself accessible, when many of these venues are anything but.

I’m a 28-year-old administrator who earns less than £25,000 per year. I live in London. There isn’t much leeway for cultural spending.

Subsidised theatre seems excessively expensive recently. I appreciate there are schemes such as Travelex, but National Theatre prices make me wonder if it should be called the National Theatre for People Who Are Rich and Much Older Than Me. I am a big fan of actors and crew getting paid, but I now take all these claims about making theatre and culture accessible with a pinch of salt. How about making it affordable and worth that price?

There are some fantastic schemes and concessions to be had. Various theatres have special discounted tickets for under 30s. The National Theatre’s Entry Pass (for ages 16-25) is one such scheme and, to its credit, it’s free.

I am also a great believer in memberships, but it is increasingly hard to justify the £30-plus annual fee, plus whatever ‘cheap’ tickets I can get hold of. I also cannot rely on the various free ticketing websites, because there is this Fight Club-style ‘You do not talk about free tickets’ rule, so it is shrouded in secrecy.

I have recently found myself travelling out of London to see shows, and they seem so reasonably priced in comparison. For example, I paid £15 at Chichester Festival Theatre and £30 at Theatre Royal Brighton for good seats in theatres. As a result, the shows were close to being full, as well as offering cheap interval ice creams. In London, regular theatre attendees are constantly on the lookout for a bargain and find themselves giving up when nothing appears. It does not help that so many cheap seats have poor sight lines and even poorer leg room.

Increasingly, my concern is the behaviour of audience members who have paid for premium seats. In my experience, they are the rudest and most entitled people I have come across, and why shouldn’t they be? If I paid a lot of money for anything, I would expect special treatment, because that’s what premium means. By creating sight lines that are apparently worth £100 or more, it creates a ‘them and us’ attitude that should have been left in the era during which many of the West End theatres were built.

London has some amazing productions that attract people from across the world, but I feel alienated as a local. I cannot see all of the theatre all of the time, but, by charging a small fortune, producers are making audience members feel unwanted. For many, spending that much money just isn’t part of their nature.

At what point does the price hit a peak and theatre peasants finally rise up because they cannot afford to see Les Mis?

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