Lets face it, stuff happens, so what to do when it does…
General Complaints about London Theatre and Tickets
Contact the Development Office, The Society of London Theatre, 32 Rose Street, London. WC2E 9ET. Email email@example.com or call 08701 535353.
This is the self regulatory organisation of London Theatre. They can step in and mediate on your behalf, but their word is not binding in a dispute. They also want to know when things go wrong as they can orchestrate campaigns to get them put right, but cannot help with individual issues between customers, theatres, producers and ticket agents.
For issue with ticket agencies and theatres that are Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers members, contact STAR at www.star.org.uk. They are now an officially approved Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform, with details on their website.
Or you could just whine to us! The site cannot help resolve anything, but can at least warn others of a problem. That is a major reason for this site's existence.
There are also sites on the web that offer advice on dealing with complaints. One of these is resolver.co.uk.
For ticket problems, see the "Complaint Chain" at the end of this page.
I cannot use my ticket
Try the box office or agent you bought from first. You will get a refund or exchange if A) they think they can resell the ticket; or B) offer an exchange policy (mostly National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company only); or C) that your reason for not going is good enough. This means something as drastic as a close family death or hospitalisation.
Sales are usually final, so if no help is coming, pass tickets to friends. This attitude sucks, but prevents everyone who bought seats in advance for a critical flop from backing out - saving the producer's income. Resale via newspaper advert or to a tout is not advisable as this contravenes the conditions of sale. If detected your purchaser may be refused entry. These days original buyers are traceable. No one has been prosecuted yet, but why be first?
There is some good news from Ambassador Group Theatres, who either own or provide box office services to the Comedy, Donmar Warehouse, Duke of York's, Fortune, Old Vic, Phoenix, Piccadilly, Playhouse, Savoy and Trafalgar Studios Theatres. If you book direct with them (NOT via a ticket agency) they will exchange tickets at a cost of £5 each, and often waive this fee if the exchange is made within 24 hours of purchase. This is at box office discretion, however and they can refuse the right to do this if they choose.
Ticketmaster and some other sites, including See Tickets and Eventim, have a ticket exchange allowing those who have bought from their company the opportunity to sell unwanted tickets via them for a small fee. Not all shows and concerts are covered by the scheme, but they hope to add more as time passes.
Encore Ticket Agency has a "Flexiticket" Exchange Service, allowing FREE transfer / cancellation (credit note up to 12 months) of your booking up to 3 days before the performance for £2.50 per ticket.
Most theatres now sell ticket insurance scheme "TicketPlan". 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; who hopes all theatres will get round to offering it soon!
Ticket Not Arrived
Contact your point-of-sale - box office or ticket agency, online or by phone, with at least 48 hours to go, if possible. They can normally arrange duplicates or confirm that the originals are being held at the box office (either because you booked too late for them to be sent - every company has a different policy on that), or due to some other administrative error they'd rather you didn't know about...
A reader says,
"I was getting worried because the theatre site says tickets should be posted 5 days before show date - and mine hadn't come by the 1st of August, for my show on the 5th. So I did the email form on the theatre's website, for the duplicate tickets to be picked up at the box office; which makes the other tickets null and void. My tickets came on the 2nd August and I was thinking of getting them signed by the cast... so I kept them!
When I went to get my duplicate tickets, it didn't seem that any had been sent! So I was allowed to use the proper ones. Hence my advice is keep your tickets if they do arrive, despite it saying they become null and void!"
The monkey agrees.
Forgot My Ticket
If you accidentally leave your tickets at home, what happens next depends on where you bought them from!
Bought from the box office, they should have a record of your booking and can usually re-issue them for you. Be aware that you could be charged a fee for this...
Most agencies have "duty desk" staff available who can be contacted to confirm the booking. Again, you will get your ticket re-issued...but...
Ticketmaster and most other agencies make a small service charge. Having a good memory helps.
Just to be certain, you may want to take the entire mantelpiece with you, in order to ensure that the tickets you kept on it are not forgotten...
Someone in my seat
Double bookings do happen. Arrive early to take your seat as it will give staff more time to sort out the problem. In theatre, possession is NOT nine tenths of the law, so you can be told to move, leave, or as theatremonkey has been, get forcibly ejected.
Theatres put the people who bought tickets from their own box office first. Those buying from even approved STAR agencies will be treated as second class citizens and are the ones inconvenienced.
When it happens to you, get the usher to summon the FRONT OF HOUSE MANAGER or BOX OFFICE MANAGER immediately. If your ticket is not correct, make sure you get something in writing if you have to move - it will help your complaint later. Most people do not know that STAR agencies actually have the rights to some seats from the theatre on long term and ancient contracts, sometimes dating back to the construction of the building. In this case, the person buying from the owner has the right to sit there.
If it all goes wrong, you will be moved to seats kept back for such problems. These will be (in a half full theatre) whatever the management are sure is unsold, and will often be pretty decent. In a full theatre, if you are lucky and the house seats (kept back for use by the theatre in case the Queen turns up etc) have not been sold, you get these high quality seats, but don't bank on it.
If the new seats are acceptable, try asking for free drinks / programmes as compensation for your ordeal then leave it there. If, you get shifted to an unused box, or asked to come back another time, read on…
In this case Theatremonkey advice is to protect your legal rights. If the worst happens, and it is not your fault, take any inferior seat given under protest, insist on free drinks and programmes at half time, and get it noted in writing that you reserve the right to take further action at a later date. You have a legally binding contract, which the ticket provider has breached, your evening has been ruined as you feel humiliated, and who can enjoy the play after such an ordeal. So, use the complaint chain explained below.
Can't fit into my seat
Legroom is generally the reason... The monkey had that experience in 2012 - it was an invited guest so couldn't choose its seat in advance... and ended up in one of the most notoriously cramped rows of seats that it normally warns readers against. What it did was leave the seat before the show started, and scouted another, much further back and in a cheaper section, but with far more legroom. It waited until the last moment to check the seat hadn't been sold, then asked an usher if it could move - making clear it had come from a more expensive seat. The usher agreed, and the monkey was very happy.
Now, the interesting bit. At the interval, the monkey didn't dare move in case others with similar legroom issues also tried to change seat. Well, it was amused that the usher and house manager stood behind its seat, having the following conversation by radio with the box office, "no, we can't move them there, somebody has already taken that one for the same reason!"
Two things to learn from this 1) If you have to move ALWAYS ask a member of staff first. 2) ALWAYS be first to move, and move early. If you are uncomfortable, chances are others will be too. If you move first, you are first in line to get the best of the seats left over AND, EQUALLY IMPORTANT, you won't spoil the show for yourself or others by being uncomfortable / having to move once the performance has started.
Got Moved / Not Happy With Your Seat
A reader in 2015 noted that his front row upper circle (second tier) seat was converted to a stalls (ground floor) ticket on arrival, as the circle was closed. Trouble was, the new - and more expensive - seat was at the side and a long way back.
A day later, he asked the monkey what he should have done. Monkey reply was, "complain at the time, to front of house or box office staff." They will try and help you if they can.
If they can't, make sure the complaint is recorded by a staff member, and take it up with the ticket supplier. Chances are, alas, that you won't get very far, but worth a try.
Extra Row Added
If you've booked a long way ahead, sometimes the front rows are not fixed until the set has gone in and final rehearsals on the actual stage begin. Thus your front row seat could become a second or even third row ticket, or have a restricted view. If it's a view or legroom issue, theatres normally contact you and will move your seat, no problem. If there isn't an issue with view, and you find out about it in time, theatres do usually move folk who ask. Otherwise, the practicalities of re-contacting everyone are beyond them. Partly because new rows may not have the same number of seats or the row will be used for day seats or have a restriction issue like view or legroom. If you are set on the front row, the rule is, keep checking if you can.
P.S. Rows can also be removed, and theatres don't always tell you that either, just hand you a new ticket on the day... sometimes after you've found your ticket doesn't exist...
A Featured Actor is Not Appearing
A condition of sale printed on the back of every ticket states that no refunds are given for advertised actors failing to perform. Complaining does no good whatsoever. If you specifically want to see that person, check with the actual theatre box office before buying your ticket. You stand the best chance of seeing the performer work on a Friday or Saturday Evening, the least chance at a midweek matinee, or a Monday or Thursday Evening.
If the theatre cancels the show in advance, they will attempt to contact you and offer a free exchange or refund of your tickets. For this reason, make sure when you book that they have accurate contact telephone numbers. No other compensation is payable, and they will not pay compensation for anything else, like a wasted travel ticket. You can try getting something out of the theatre chain general manager at company head office if the cancellation was at less than 24 hours notice, but theatremonkey experience is that you will get nowhere.
If the show is cancelled during the performance, a refund is only made if less than half the performance is given. Again, no compensation is given. The only exception is at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, where, if the play is rained off at any point, you can exchange your ticket for any other performance in the current or any future season. No money is ever refunded except to school parties. No extra compensation, though.
Rules vary, but again, no refunds are possible. If a major problem occurs, like the Underground train system failing, the performance will be delayed anyway. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of the theatre. Methods of dealing with latecomers include:
Excluding them until a suitable break in the show or even until the half time interval. You may be allowed to watch on a silent TV monitor in the bar if you are lucky.
Seating at the back of the theatre until the interval, when you can move forward to your real seat.
Just asking you to leave without a refund. Normally the first two apply, but why risk it. Allow plenty of time instead.
Many theatres in London are not blessed with the greatest acoustics. Add modern sound equipment and you have the potential to turn the softest song into a rock concert. 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.
If you really have a gripe, try a word with the folk on the desk at the interval. Occasionally they can help. Otherwise, ask to move seats. Unfortunately, managers do not seem to care if the sound of 'Les Misérables' is making you miserable, and, generally, no refunds are made.
Getting ill during the show
First aid is available from either a St Johns Ambulance Brigade volunteer, or the resident first aider. Or, as the monkey did when someone collapsed in the aisle in front of it, you could ask very loudly, "is there a doctor in the house?" Chances are good there will be.
No refunds if you miss the show is the official policy, but a theatremonkey reader has found a much better policy does exist in some theatres,
"You mentioned about first aid being available, but no refunds. I'm glad to report this isn't always the case. I was taken ill during a performance of 'HMS Pinafore' at the Savoy Theatre. (No reflection on the performance!) The staff were kindness itself, and I was told to contact the box office to arrange free tickets for a different night, which I did."
The monkey is delighted that such great customer service is practiced.
Negligence and Theft
If a member of staff injures you or damages your property, get the house manager immediately, take details of any independent witnesses, then claim costs from the theatre's insurers.
A serious safety failing, like a locked fire door, should be reported to the house manager, and also to the local council health and safety office. All theatres are licensed for safety, and opposing the renewal is your last resort.
Theft from cloakrooms or the auditorium is not the responsibility of the theatre, according to the tiny sign at the counter. You have to prove otherwise, so take theatremonkey advice and keep valuables with you.
Ill behaved members of the audience
A reader reports the following experience:
"An example of wonderful box office staff was at the Prince Of Wales Theatre during 'Witches of Eastwick'.
The man next to me talked loudly all the way through. We asked him to be quiet, and he started to threaten me loudly with violence (he was rather drunk). We asked the ushers if we could move seats, but by then I was too upset to enjoy the show and we decided to leave at the interval.
The staff not only ensured that the man was back inside so we could leave safely, but they gave us free tickets for another night."
The monkey commends the theatre staff for a fantastic response to this terrifying incident. This is the first time it has ever heard of such a problem, and can only suggest that if you do encounter it that you follow the same procedure as this reader - notifying staff and enlisting their help, backed up by the police if necessary.
Another reader says,
"I was reading the “when things go wrong” section of your website and noticed that you wanted other experiences of unruly patrons.
My husband and I went to see a matinee performance of 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' at the New Wimbledon Theatre a couple of years ago. We were seated next to a trio of drunken women who ruined the entire performance for both us and another family sitting in front with a young girl. They spoke loudly throughout, were on their phones and were just generally obnoxious. When the man in front of us complained to them he got abuse and was threatened by them, upsetting his little girl. When we were finally able to attract the usher, she didn’t do anything until the encore when she said if they didn’t behave they’d be asked to leave (bit late!). Both us and the other family asked to see the theatre manager after the performance and she was very apologetic and gave us an e-mail address to complain to. They also let us wait until everyone else had left the theatre and to leave by a side door in case the women were waiting for us. I sent the e-mail whilst waiting on the train home and received an almost instant response with a full refund of the ticket price, which was welcomed but of course didn’t make up for the upsetting experience and as it was only a short run, we could not rebook to see the show again. But apart from the unobservant usher, I do think the theatre handled it well.
So yes, my advice is always to speak up if your enjoyment of a performance is spoilt by thoughtless others!"
If you have had a similar experience, the monkey would be very interested to hear it, if possible.
If the problem is with the theatre, a word with the house manager solves most problems on the night. A letter or call to the Operations Manager at company headquarters takes care of the rest.
One theatre chain says that filling in the feedback survey they email is very useful. Each month all replies are collated and points really are acted on.
If the problem is with the show, contact the company manager by letter, care of the stage door of the theatre. If you get no satisfaction, contact the producers office direct.
The complaint chain for problems with tickets
In general, many of your ticket buying rights are enshrined in the legislation of the "Price Indications (Resale of Tickets) Regulations 1994". The regulations are available in PDF format from http://www.dti.gov.uk/ccp/topics1/guide/pricetickets.pdf and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
When things actually go wrong, different means of purchase require slightly different action on the part of the consumer:
If you bought your ticket from the theatre box office by telephone, post or in person:
First, complain to the House Manager. You could be offered a refund of the difference in price, or tickets for a new date. If you cannot come to a satisfactory agreement, get it put in writing what has been offered for future note.
Next, contact the Operations Manager at the theatre chain head office. State what you want from them to resolve the complaint - twice the value of the tickets in cash, plus travelling expenses is reasonable. Complain by telephone initially, then follow it by letter if your call gets nowhere.
Be polite and reasonable, but assertive of your rights.
After a second letter to the theatre, there is an option to sue the theatre chain in the Small Claims Court for the above, plus damages of twice the cost of the tickets to cover emotional upset, plus legal costs and expenses incurred in bringing the action. Do not leave it longer than a month after your visit to get this far, if you cannot resolve a dispute in less than thirty days, you probably need law to help.
If you bought your ticket from a STAR agency by telephone, post or in person:
On the night, ask to speak to the agency duty manager by telephone. Keep a record of what is said. If nobody is available, get the theatre manager to acknowledge that you tried to solve the problem on the night, but failed.
Next day, complain to the agency management direct and if you cannot resolve the problem, take legal action against the agency.
Feel free to complain to 'The Society of Ticket Agents & Retailers' at www.star.org.uk too. They can in some cases resolve disputes; and they do have a procedure for disciplining member agencies.
Following one such dispute, an agency once chose to resign from STAR rather than implement the STAR code of conduct.
Since your ticket is not from the theatre, your contract is not with the theatre. It is with the agency and the law says this is whom you must pursue.
If you bought your ticket from a travel / coach agency by telephone, post or in person:
Again, try to contact representatives of the company on the night, and complain to the company next day.
Then try any trade regulator the company could be attached to, e.g. the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) to resolve the dispute before resorting to courts.
If you bought your ticket from a tout or scalper:
Sorry. Try the police or trading standards office, but you have little chance of help, even from the theatre. Read the small print on the back of the ticket - resale is forbidden. This means they do not have any obligation to you - and the theatre will use that fact.
The Last Resort Before Court
If you are still unhappy, or the ticket agency is not a STAR member (so why go there in the first place!) then try the local "trading standards office". Westminster and Camden councils (the local governments responsible for the West End).
Both have experienced consumer protection officers who can help resolve disputes and prosecute rogue traders.
Contact Westminster on 0207 641 1111 for all theatres and agencies located in the West End, or Camden on 020 7278 4444 for the Shaftesbury and Dominion Theatres and businesses located in the small quadrant of London east of Tottenham Court Road and north of High Holborn.