GETTING THAT SOLD OUT TICKET
(Also see Avoid Touts)
Be first in the Know
Shows which will always sell out even before they open generally include anything with a star name involved, either in the cast, writing or producing. These shows will be booked pretty solid for several weeks or months after opening night, and longer if reviews and public word of mouth are favourable.
Reading the Baz Bamigboye showbiz column in the Daily Mail newspaper on a Friday (twitter from midnight, sometimes earlier that preceding Thursday Evening) will keep you abreast of developments, giving details of what is likely to happen. Theatremonkey finds this better than watching TV interviews or other journalists reports - Baz is just so far ahead of the pack.
Group sales companies also get details well in advance, and tickets sometimes go on sale to groups before the general public. Register with Ticketmaster groups www.ticketmaster.co.uk or Group Line www.groupline.com / 020 7436 5588 to get details mailed to you.
For theatres with mailing lists, get on those. Theatres with membership subscription schemes always offer members advance booking ahead of the public. The Donmar and National Theatre in particular are worth joining for that, and outside the West End, so are the Almeida and Menier Chocolate Factory. More here.
Website www.ticketyboom.com also claims to alert subscribers online, by email and twitter about "on sale" dates for 100 or so venues.
Be first in the line
An old-fashioned method is Theatremonkey sending a letter to the box office a couple of weeks before this date requesting tickets. Mark the envelope clearly with the show title and ' Advance Box Office'. State a number of dates, specify evening or matinee, preferred seat location and maximum price you will be prepared to pay. Give a daytime and evening contact telephone number for queries, and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope for return of tickets. See letter on this site for an effective example.
Theatremonkey notes that postal ticket requests are often processed early and this method often gets the best tickets. Check, though, that the box office is accepting postal bookings before trying this, however. Also be aware that most don't take cheques.
A very large advertisement in the Sunday Times Culture section used to signify the opening of major show telephone bookings, traditionally at 10a.m. that day. Phone the hotline number at a bit before or a bit after, then try again at random intervals. Oddly, most people try again every five minutes. If you call, say, every seven and a quarter, your call will avoid the switchboard logjam and get answered first! Do remember to check the small print beside phone numbers, and only dial those without booking fees or low service charges!
These days, it is pretty much all online. Find the official website for the show as soon as it is announced (Google the show title and "official website" usually works, but be careful to check it really is - if the site says at the bottom it is designed by a major advertising agency like AKA or Dewynters, it's a pretty good bet. You can also find out by phoning the theatre chain, too). Sign up to the mailing list, and you will usually get an email offering priority internet booking to the "select few" before tickets are sold by any other method. It may also happen that if you have been a customer of the producer in the past, you will also get an email anyway, with luck.
Another development is the producer "holding off sale" some prime seats for many performances when booking initially opens, then trickling them back on sale as it gets closer to opening night. Worth checking online / ringing regularly if you can't get decent seats initially, as in a week or three they might have something good...
Beat the 'Line Busy' tone
An Online Tactic
The monkey successfully secures seats by using online booking system to the full. Say:
Booking opened at 9am.
At 8.45am, the monkey logged on to the official venue website.
It followed the instructions there to "Book Now" and found itself on the dedicated page "waiting room," with a countdown to booking opening. QUEUE-IT controls the system, quite often, and is pretty good, too.
At 9am, it was assigned a random place in the queue, and when it reached the front, it booked.
Here's the good bit: IT USED SEVERAL COMPUTERS - desktop, laptop, phone
(dedicated app or just the phone version of websites can be quicker than those
for other systems),
tablet - AND MULTIPLE WINDOWS IN MANY DIFFERENT BROWSERS - Internet Explorer,
Chrome and Firefox (having checked a few days before that all three worked well
with the show's booking system. Sometimes they don't, if not, don't use that
browser on that show, of course). For reference, Ticketmaster likes only one
window per browser to be open, so multiple browsers, but NOT multiple windows
for them ("Hamilton" fans, note).***
If the system crashes, you get another chance in another window, which helps.
Do put the first ticket you can into the basket in one tab, so it was "in" somewhere, but if you want to, you can wait for another chance to show in another tab, choose a better seat there, and discard the one in the basket at the same time in this new tab.
One point. If grabbing a ticket MAKE SURE IT IS IN THE BASKET, NOT JUST "clicked on" - the page will change to show an actual basket page.
DO rehearse the day or two before so you know how the particular system works, and if you can pre-enter your credit card, that helps speed things up and stops mistakes with excited fingers.
Remember too: if the system is busy or keeps "crashing," it at least means that nobody else can book either - so you should still have a fair chance...
***Some shows send out an email with an exclusive link to the booking site. First, if you are getting the link from a theatre's membership scheme, it may be possible to log in anyway via the website's "member's area" just using your password and not waiting for the link to arrive by email. If it's 10am and the email hasn't come, by 10.02am it's worth a try.
Second, if the email does arrive and you click to find yourself in a queue but not logged in, just held in that line, there's a secondary tactic for the computer literate to open multiple windows and get in line: in Outlook (and probably others) right click on the email and select "view source" from the box that opens. That will give you the HTML programming code that makes up the email. Compare the original email with the code, and you can figure out where in the HTML the actual link to the booking page is. It will begin "https://" just like a website address does. Cut and paste it into any browser and you can open as many as you like, provided you don't have to log into the theatre's website first. If you aren't familiar with this sort of thing, probably worth practising on an old email first, so you know what you are doing when the real one comes on the day and not wasting valuable minutes fiddling about.
Mailing lists / Membership Schemes
In 2019, however, a reader told the monkey of a distressing experience. Using a well-known, genuine ticket agency, they booked seats while the "feeding frenzy" was going on at the theatre's main site - thus skipping the queue. Worth the extra the agency was charging. Sadly, a few days later, the agency emailed to say that her booking hadn't gone through - nor had others booking that way. A breakdown in communication between the agency's computer system and that of the box office meant that the agency hadn't been selling tickets in "real time" and those booking with the theatre's own system had been sold the tickets instead. There was nothing much they could do either, and the lesson is that even confirmed bookings can get cancelled, particularly if they are made with a third party ticket agency, even a genuine STAR one, as in this case.
Hey, Mr Producer!
Visitors to London, Theatremonkey knows, often cannot book the months ahead that the above methods require. So to get in on short notice…
Ask for the least
Reader Ali agrees on this point,
If just getting to see a show is the important thing, do not be picky about date, time, price or seat location. Even theatremonkey has accepted bad or expensive seats on occasion just to 'be there' for an event. Accept the good seats (except house seats as below) are gone, and be grateful to get in at all.
Some theatres - notably the Delfont Mackintosh chain, may allow you to "trade up" to better seats if you spot any at least 24 hours before the show. You have to pay the difference in price, but it means you can take advantage of extra good tickets being released.
Small point to remember: once you are sure that the clerk has made the effort to look for tickets on your chosen date, accept their word that there are none. Box office staff like selling all available tickets, and will do so if they can. Most are not magicians, though, and cannot produce tickets which really and genuinely don't exist!
Be an earlybird
Try the Returns and / or "Day Seats" line
Some theatres, notably the Royal National, the Royal Shakespeare Company (wherever they are currently playing), Royal Court and Lyceum also keep back a few seats deliberately for sale on the day of performance as a public service and anti tout measure. Increasingly, this trend is being followed by the most popular musicals and plays at other venues, with the front row of the stalls being held for sale on the day - often more cheaply (though they may have a slightly restricted view of the stage, particularly where the height of the stage prevents seeing the actors' feet!).
Returns lines form outside the theatre from around 8a.m, earlier for really hot shows and in summer. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. and continue to be sold as they come in, right through until curtain up time, so stick around until then - even if it seems "all hope" is gone, you never know! Wrap up warm, take refreshments, and be prepared to wait. Make sure that you also take BOTH credit cards AND cash too, to the value of the most expensive tickets (if you are prepared to pay it!). Some box offices insist that you pay with one or the other specifically, depending on the source of the tickets they are selling you.
A reader says,
The Royal Court's system works on the basis that you turn up after a certain time on the day and get given a card with a number; you then go back at a certain time (I think half an hour before the start time, but you would need to check) and they sell off what they've had returned in the order of your numbered card. We got great tickets for 'the Seagull' last year (2007)."
Reader Mark also notes that unsold 'Day Seats' may end up being sold either online or by telephone through the central phoneroom of each theatre once demand at the counter has been satisfied.
Manipulate the online system
Pay for the VIP treatment
If you happen to be staying in a hotel with a concierge service, ask them to obtain seats for you. Members of the concierge service organisation 'Golden Keys' co-operate to make the impossible seem easy. It will cost plenty, but the tickets produced will not be stolen or fake - unlike those offered by ticket touts / scalpers. Information about the organisation is at http://www.goldenkeysconcierge.co.uk/ and this page provides a list of hotels at which members operate.
Scale the peaks
Theatremonkey reckons Tuesday evenings and the midweek matinees often see the cast give the best performances of the week.
Do note, though, that many agents no longer have actual reserved "allocations," instead, they log into the theatre's stock and share that. This means of course that if the theatre is sold out, so is the agent. The only exceptions are the few agencies continuing with their own supplies, and those times when a company has bought tickets in advance and so may have some left.
Legitimate companies include embers include Lovetheatre.com - who operate the Theatremonkey Ticketshop, telephone 020 7420 9778 (0044 207 420 9778 if calling from outside the United Kingdom), Encore, Ticketmaster, Albemarle, Leicester Square Box Office, Group Line, See Tickets, LondonTheatreDirect, Ticket Web (a division of Ticketmaster which also sell on behalf of the Society Of London Theatres website), London Theatre Booking (incorporating Fenchurch and Rakes ticket agencies), Lashmar (part of Lovetheatre.com), Elondontickets, Ingresso (Fromtheboxoffice.com), lastminute.com (who sell via Encore) and Todaytix.
Local Coach Trips
Boxes and Restricted Views
You could even try offering cash / use of your yacht / mind or any legally tradable commodity, to arriving audience members. In theatremonkey's experience though, it never works.
Theatremonkey does not endorse buying from these sources. Links from auctions to this website are not made by theatremonkey and theatremonkey.com DOES NOT take responsibility for the legitimacy of the seller or tickets being offered.
Death Rattles and Suntans
Note that if an actor does suddenly fall victim to marauding germs, it means tickets often come available on the day as fans swap them for other performances (if the producer allows it). Worth asking the box office either by telephone or at the counter if you see "Tonight Mr Wonderful is Off" notices at the theatre.
Very often, once initial press coverage has died down (around two weeks in London) those who bought tickets have second thoughts - and frequently return them to the box office.
To give one example, a play starring a well known actress was said to be "sold out" for the entire run. In actuality, the theatre was getting back more seats than it could sell - so every night there were a few tickets left....worth remembering, thinks the monkey.
Final, final note for Pop Concert fans...
First, when things have settled down a few hours or days later, often checking official websites reveal single tickets left for a particular date.
Around 4 to 6 weeks before the show takes place things get even clearer. The stage design is fixed and so some seats that were held back in case they had a restricted view / were needed for technical reasons are placed on sale. At the same time, unsold tickets from package tour operators and agencies as well as unwanted VIP tickets are also released... and may even trickle back on sale up until the night of the show! Basically, by waiting rather than feeding the greed of an auction site tout, you'll often get stunning seats near the front without the hassle of the opening day sales fight.
A reader relates her own experiences,
It doesn't happen this way every time of course, but the monkey finds that it holds at least 9 times out of 10...
Also worth noting is a reader's experience of "pre sale" priority booking, in
The monkey notes that "pre sale" is usually from an allocation of tickets...
and they may not be the best available...