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English Theatre Words Translated from Broadway

To you all, theatremonkey says welcome and enjoy.

You were the inspiration for this site. The following bits of information don't fit elsewhere, but have been asked so often of this monkey by visitors that here seems a good place to put it all. Please add to this list  Contact Us.

One reader produced a summary of this experience, which they hope will help others:
"As an overseas visitor, what worked best for me was this: I studied the seating charts on this website and made notes of what rows or seats I preferred with, if possible, more than one date that would work. For me, the object was to get the best possible seat and I could be a little flexible with the date. I then called the box office direct and asked for the seats I wanted or else something close. It worked for me because the seating charts and recommended seats were so helpful. I found it was best to be prepared with a little advance knowledge".

The monkey helps these pages will help you here are its own list of tips:

Help the Box Office Clerk
Clerks get a rough deal (cue violins) facing the public every day. Help them when making a booking by listing (before calling them), your a choice of dates and prices, and knowing which seats you prefer. And have your credit card to hand. If you are prepared, the whole booking thing is way simpler and less painful for both parties involved!

As a rule, most expensive seats are in the Stalls and Dress Circle, with a few rows at the back a bit cheaper. Third and fourth prices are in the Upper Circle, with the balcony the cheapest. Restricted view seats and boxes are often at a discount. Do note that seats in boxes are often individually numbered, and if you don't buy all of them, then the other tickets will be sold to other people.

If you are shown a seating plan, the Stalls (Orchestra Stalls to Americans) and any circles / balconies, are divided off by thin lines. The Stalls is always the largest block of seats with the most rows in it. Row A (or a letter close to it) is the front row in every section of a theatre, stalls or circles / balconies. Pillars often show up as black dots on seating plans, and an unusual white space in among a row of seats is also a giveaway. A wide white space between rows often means an aisle - and in the Circles this can also often mean a wall or bars in front of the next row of seats...

Monkey has had reports that both online booking systems and telephone sales clerks have been splitting small parties by placing one or more members away from the rest on the other side of the aisle! The monkey advises scrutiny of the seating plans to make certain this does not happen to you. Also, do remember that some plans are more detailed than others, so do check more than one if you are not sure.

A reader also advises always considering phoning the theatre as an option as the choice of seats and prices can vary. The reader writes in February 2007,
"My greater surprise came when I called the box office to get better seats than were advertised on the website for Mary Poppins. My children's tickets were also discounted! Instead of the £56 per seat we'd been bracing ourselves to pay, the children's tickets were £29 each! You might want to pass along this information to your readers because it was *definitely* worth a phone call (even though I use a discounted calling program so it's cheap anyway) to save so much money!"

Another reader says,
""When trying to book Miley Cyrus tickets in 2009, I rang Ticketmaster up and they said to me, "Oh, more seats will be released," - which meant another show. The same as with Barry Manilow 2008. So, be friendly and they will give you information.

Also, they hold back tickets until the last week. I was looking at the second Jonas Brothers show at Wembley and getting not very good seats until about 5 days before - where I was getting central seats as the concert was in the round. These were near disabled seats which they might release to fill the gaps where the artists could see them from the stage."

Please also be aware that if an event is cancelled, refunds may be limited to the price of the ticket only, with the 'booking fee' not refunded. This applies particularly to pop concert events.

Accepted Credit and Debit Cards
All theatre ticket sellers accept any plastic with the international Visa or MasterCard Symbol on it. They also take American Express (but will try to talk you out of using it as the commission rate they get charged by the bank is very high - 3.5%+; as against 1.5% for other cards). London theatres also accept Diners Club, but most ticket agents do not. Japanese card JCB is also accepted in the theatres themselves and by ticket agencies - once you explain it to them!

Debit cards are also usually fine, if issued by Mastercard or Visa.

The Official Half Price Booth at Leicester Square takes Visa, MasterCard, Amex and debit cards. It also accepts Euros currency. 

The actual cardholder MUST be present and produce the credit card used to make the booking, when collecting tickets at the box office counter on the day of the performance. VERY IMPORTANT: Sometimes, when your credit card expires, the new one will have a different number. IF YOUR CARD IS DUE TO EXPIRE BEFORE THE DATE YOU ARE BOOKED TO GO TO THE THEATRE, KEEP YOUR OLD CARD TO MAKE IT EASY TO COLLECT YOUR TICKETS.

Theatremonkey's American friend Brian McKinney (of late renown) says that,
"I booked some plays through your site today (August 2007), and my  credit card company turned me down, so I booked them with my bank direct withdrawal card. Later, I received an automated message from the credit card company, asking if I had tried to book seats through a dance club (LTC).  You  might warn Americans to call their card companies before they order tickets."

Sound advice, thinks the monkey, who would also add that if you are going to make a large transaction - half a dozen "premium priced" tickets for example - it can be worth anyone anywhere notifying their card company in advance.


Ticket Insurance
Many theatres now sell ticket insurance schemes. This guarantees you your money back if you, a close relative or person accompanying you to the show: is too ill / had an accident / died. They even notify the theatre of your non-appearance; so you do not have to worry!

You are also covered if your car breaks down en-route, or if public transport fails due to industrial action or breakdown. With huge ticket prices, this is a great way to protect your investment. It is a useful option to consider where offered, feels the monkey.

There are several to choose from, either offered as you buy, or as an annual policy.


Dress at the theatre
Once when this monkey's uncle was a monkey's great-grandson, the term Dress Circle meant just that - full Evening Dress for all seated there, or else. Now dress is almost always informal. Theatremonkeys can get away with jeans, sweatshirts and trainers at all performances except first nights and the first Saturday evening of a new show when a sober lounge suit should get an airing. Comfort is first on the list. In general, suits, jackets, slacks or casual wear are acceptable for men at almost all times - casual especially during the afternoons. Suits really are only compulsory at openings, but are frequently seen on weekend evenings.

Monkeyesses as usual have a sartorial minefield to negotiate. Dress for comfort and to embarrass any hairy companion to look good for you. As for theatremonkeys, casual is fine at most performances, dresses, slacks, jeans and sweatshirts all acceptable. First nights require a smart but comfortable evening attire, not elaborate unless you are a celebrity though! Weekend evenings too can be a bit dressier than a weekday.

One tip though, if sitting anywhere but the Stalls, monkeyesses should consider skirt length carefully. Your knees will often be at head height to the person in front. A monkeyesse of the theatremonkey site's acquaintance wore a microskirt and spent the performance in mortal terror of offering a view to the gentleman in front which he hadn't reckoned on. This is passed on purely for information. But Theatremonkey thinks it is worth knowing.

In general London nights are cool, even in summer. It is worth remembering a warm garment if you have a long journey home after the evening performance as temperatures will have plummeted while you enjoyed the show. This tip also beats an over enthusiastic air conditioning system too.


Not expected in London Theatres unless something is way beyond the call of duty. Theatremonkey has tipped a brave usherette for retrieving a shoe from the orchestra pit (full details of this incident by emailing a credit card number to the usual address). 


Taking Photographs and Recordings
Strictly forbidden inside theatres for copyright and safety reasons. Flash photography at the wrong moment ended a dancer's career when it caused her to slip as she was momentarily dazzled. Add to this the fact you are blocking the rest of the audience's view as well and you have a pretty selfish act.

For copyright reasons cameras are often confiscated and images erased before return. If you want production photographs, buy the souvenir brochure (see below). The pictures will be better than the shadows your own camera will return anyway. Photographs of the auditorium should be taken only with management permission. Ask.

Recording is also strictly forbidden as it again infringes copyright. Buy a commercially available soundtrack from a high street shop (not the foyer, which sells at full price). Illegal recordings of all shows exist, up to your conscience to decide if you are going down this route. Theatremonkey doesn't.


Other Noise
Turn off mobile phones and digital watch alarms before the curtain rises. Remember that rustling sweet wrappers and bags annoy those around you, and please, don't talk during the quiet bits of music or dialogue. Wait for the interval or the end. Not eating and only laughing / crying / gasping to the action on stage will make you look like a true inhibited British theatregoer and endear you to them all.


Musicals in the West End can be over amplified for some. Sound is balanced from a desk usually sited in the rear stalls. Sitting two rows in front of this desk will give the best balance in the theatre and avoid the people on the desk disturbing you. Sitting in the rear upper circle or balcony will produce the quietest sound, the front stalls the loudest.

One reader opines, though:
"My opinion is that especially LW theatres use underbalcony DandB speakers to give the privilege for the 'less rich' to enjoy the terrible front stalls loud sound in the back of upper circle. Let's not generalise it, in Palace Theatre a huge effort was made to make the shows sound great. Good job."

The monkey has found simple wax earplugs also help.


That Ringing Bell
A bell normally sounds in the auditorium and foyers at around five minutes before the curtain rises. It usually repeats at one minute intervals thereafter.  

It warns you to take your seat as the show is about to start. It also notifies the theatre staff to check that the restrooms and foyers are clear. This ensures that the curtain does not go up until almost everyone in the audience has been seated, since in the event of a problem, backstage staff can hold off the start for a few minutes if necessary.

At the Royal National Theatre, a civilised announcement is made - but the bells are so much more traditional thinks theatremonkey!


This will attract controversy. Theatremonkey has been asked this many times by overseas visitors baffled at the lack of response of British audiences. Obviously spontaneous applause/laughter lets actors know the audience is still awake. In general though, Brits tend to wait for the end of the act. Occasionally a good natured round of applause as an actor enters or exits or amazes is fine, but some visitors feel compelled to applaud every song in a musical or scene in a play, then get embarrassed when noone else joins in. It seems to this monkey not really a feature of London theatre (shame? you decide).

A standing ovation is usually saved until the end as the cast takes their final bows. Feel free if you are really impressed. Theatremonkey does.


I'm larger than average, can you help on locating suitable seats?
A page of advice is available by clicking here.


Car Parking
Many box offices allow you to use a car park space, at a discount, along with your show seats - and the Royal Albert Hall lets you pre-book spaces too. Worthwhile and guarantees you a place to park without hassle on arrival. The "Theatreland Parking Scheme" may be available at car parks near may West End venues . Call Q-Park car parks on 0870 442 0104 or see for details. At this car park, parking under the "Theatreland Parking Scheme" allows a 50% discount in cost. Spaces CANNOT be reserved at these prices, though.

If you choose the "Theatreland Parking Scheme", you must get your car park ticket validated at the theatre's box office counter (the theatre attendant will insert the car parking ticket into a small machine which updates the information held on the magnetic strip on the reverse, thus enabling the discount). When you pay using the machines at the car park, 50% will be deducted from the full tariff. You may park for up to 4 hours after 12 noon, using this scheme and it is endorsed by the Society of London Theatre.

For a full list of car parks and theatres that participate in the 50% off theatreland scheme see




English Theatre terms translated:


1) Auditorium
Stalls…Orchestra or Orchestra Stalls…. Seats at ground floor level, in front of the stage.

Dress Circle…. Mezzanine or first mezzanine…Seats in the first balcony. Best in the theatre. Some theatres call this the Royal Circle or something else. Check on this site under theatre descriptions. Few London Theatres have a Rear Mezzanine, and when they do, it will just be considered part of the Dress Circle.

Upper Circle…Second Mezzanine or Balcony…Seats in the second balcony. Mostly quite high up and sold at similar prices to the rear stalls.

Balcony or Gallery… Gallery or second balcony… Seats in the third level balcony. Not all theatres have them. Where they do, they are very high up - often 100 feet or more from the stage, vertically! The audience is caged in behind elaborate safety bars.

2) General
Programme… Playbill… See below.

Usher/ette… Attendant… Found in the foyer and in the auditorium. They do NOT expect a tip to show you to your seat. In fact, you will not usually be shown at all, just pointed in the approximate direction.

Touts… Scalpers… Avoid, see Avoiding Touts and Scalpers.

Seating map or seating chart.

Day Seats... Rush seats. Tickets held back for sale on the day of the performance to personal callers at the theatre box office. Common in subsidised theatres like the National, rare in the commercial West End. For hit shows, lines may start before 7am. If getting in line, make sure you have both cash and credit cards as different payment policies may apply each time - sometimes depending on whether tickets are true "Rush Seats" or simply "Returns" (unwanted tickets sent to the theatre for re-sale).

In England alas, you have to pay for these as the theatre, not the producer gets to keep the profit.

The 'programme' usually priced about £5, sometimes up to £10 if no "Souvenir Brochure" is issued and a combined glossy effort happens instead - contains a cast list and brief biographies, list of scenes and settings, sometimes a plot synopsis, a couple of photographs, a few articles about the author/play and a history of the theatre. Ushers inside the auditorium itself, and occasionally in the foyer sell it.

A glossy 'Souvenir Brochure' priced around £7 - £10 is sold in addition to programmes at the big musicals. This is sold in the foyer, in order to shift the stock before the cheaper option is discovered inside the auditorium. This brochure contains large colour pictures of the show, and a few articles about its' creation. It does not contain a cast list, list of songs, or anything specific to that actual performance - for that you need… the programme. 

In 2016, the monkey was fascinated to find out that "Breakfast At Tiffany's" at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, was charging £6 for a programme Monday to Thursday, and £8 on Friday and Saturday! "Dynamic Pricing" of souvenirs, has to be a first, it thinks!

Subsidised theatres - The Royal National Theatre, Royal Court and Royal Shakespeare Company make a free cast list available at the door. Look for the dispenser rack just beside the auditorium entrance. Generous Cameron Mackintosh makes these available in the Prince Of Wales and Prince Edward Theatres too. Almost making up for introducing booking fees.

Other souvenirs are available, see Making Your Visits Fun.


Opera Glasses
Found in holders between pairs of seat backs in most theatres. Push your £1 coin hard into the slot, then pull the glasses upwards to free them. At the end of the show put them back, pushing them down firmly into the holder. Do not push the glasses hard into the holder before the end of the play, or you will have to pay again. 

Magnification is not bad, and, where available, the glasses are worth using. Arrive early to get a set, and if you must try another row to get some, take them from the ends of the row as they will be easier to return at the end of the performance.

Do not forget to return them, they are loaned, and theatregoers have been prosecuted in the past for theft. If you cannot return them to a holder, hand them to a member of staff or leave them on your seat top. 

Keen theatremonkeys buy their own, but you have to see a lot of shows to justify the cost.


Read the play
Seriously. If the play is unfamiliar, or contains difficult language, a few minutes reading the first two or three scenes makes it easier to get involved in the action. 


Foreign Language Assistance
Buying tickets is unfortunately in English unless you strike lucky with a bilingual clerk. Using ticket agencies based in the major department stores - Harrods and Selfridges; where an interpreter can be called on increases chances of help. Buying from an authorised agent in your home country is sadly the best riposte to monoglot Englanders.




Gift Vouchers
A number of companies, including the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) sell Gift Vouchers ( Gift Certificates) which can be exchanged for tickets. The monkey says, "Think."

Theatre Tokens is a non for profit scheme run on behalf on the UK theatre industry and is administered by The Society of London Theatre. Theatre Tokens never expire unlike other similar vouchers and are available in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations. Change is also given in Theatre Tokens should the tickets be less than the Theatre Token you hold.
Choose from over 230 different theatres right across the UK, including London's West End and the TKTS half price ticket booths for on the day tickets.

Theatre Tokens are available direct from 24/7 or on Tokenline 0870 164 8800 Monday to Friday during office hours and all orders are dispatched by first class post on the following business day. They are also available through a network of retails including all participating Theatres, WHSmiths, Borders, Waterstones and many Tourist Information Centres.

Large agencies also issue their own tokens for purchase through their own companies. 
The choice is baffling. As one reader reports in July 2007,
"I had a terribly problem getting tickets for "Billy Elliot." I am leaving my job and was given a mix of theatre tokens and a Ticketmaster gift card as leaving presents! Hurrah!

However, when I phoned Ticketmaster to book tickets using the tokens and gift card I was passed from department to department for about 20 minutes only to be finally told that Ticketmaster DO NOT accept the Society of London Theatre Theatre Tokens for Billy Elliot.

Then I had the nightmarish task of phoning the Victoria Palace Box office and booking a seat next to the one that had been suggested to me by Ticketmaster. Thankfully the Box Office could sell me D26 in the circle and Ticketmaster still had seat D27 when I phoned back..!

A very difficult way of trying to get two seats together due to allocations and various odd rules.

The morale is - only ever ask for Theatre Tokens and go straight to the Box Office either in person or over the phone!"

Another reader writes of an experience,
"I recently received £50 worth of Theatre Tokens as a birthday present. I wanted to see 'Les Misérables' and pay with my Theatre Tokens through Ticketmaster, but I was told that because this is a popular show they won't accept tokens. I tried phoning back. This time, the chap stuttered and said that those tokens had to be used with a different agency for that particular show, and he gave me their number. I asked what the name of the agency was, and he eventually told me that he didn't know because they don't keep that information around. Where was I directed when I phoned this mystery agency number? The venue itself, who don't allow any of Ticketmaster's special offers (meal deal, 2 for 1 etc.).

Ticketmaster don't accept Theatre Tokens for popular shows. If you give them as a present, you are limiting the giftee to the unpopular shows, or preventing them from using the 2 for 1 offers. Steer very clear of Theatre Tokens."

In fact, Ticketmaster do accept SOLT tokens for most shows - BUT users should be careful to use only the booking numbers listed in the gift voucher folder that comes with the tokens as they don't accept them for all... AND try and call weekdays 9am to 6pm when it is most likely the agency tokens office staff will be available to help (often the general telephone team don't know about tokens and can cause the kind of chaos the reader described above). Also, if you do have a problem redeeming SOLT tokens, calling Tokenline on 0870 164 8800 can help resolve issues.

The monkey KNOWS cash is a thoughtless gift, but still, in this case, consider if the recipient is going to be able to redeem them easily.....

....... Luckily, it prefers bananas anyway.

Send us your tips, hints and experiences. Contact Us.  








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