Many box offices allow you to obtain a car park space, at a discount, along with your show seats. 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 www.q-park.co.uk/theatreland 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 http://www.q-park.co.uk.
Outside the West End central area, the Royal National Theatre, South Bank Concert Halls, Earls Court, Royal Albert Hall, Wembley Complex and the Barbican Centre have their own car parks. Of these, only Earls Court and the Royal Albert Hall require / allow pre - booking. The others have enough space to cope with their own audiences.
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.
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!
Some staff go a long way to help people. Reader Simon Feegrade was impressed by the service he received from the Trafalgar Studios/Ambassador staff.
"I requested front row, but was told the RSC were being slow to release their unsold allocation, which included those seats. They reserved my 4th-row tickets without taking payment while waiting to see what the RSC released. From Thursday to following Tuesday, they held them, while giving me phone updates, before confirming the front row seats were available and only taking payment then. And they were helpful and courteous throughout."
Chris Ellis adds, for the Cambridge Theatre in 2004:
"An extra word of praise for the theatre staff - I lost our tickets on the way to the theatre, but luckily had noted my booking reference. However, there was no hassle in getting replacement tickets quickly from the box office when we arrived, with only minutes to spare."
great news, and just shows how staff will try when they are treated well by us customers!
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.
Almost all theatres have online seat selection, where you can pick your own seats for shows from all those available in their theatres. For venues which don't offer that facility, most ticket agencies, like Londontheatredirect.com have "live booking" which does the same thing - but with the agency booking fee on top, of course.
In those cases, there's nothing to stop you using the agency availability plan, but phoning / booking online with the venue box office and saving the booking fees.
The monkey also notes that if booking a group by phone, it's a very good idea to have a live availability plan on the screen in front of you, so you can tell the clerks which seats your group would like. If making a discount booking, not all will be available, but it should stop you getting the really crumby ones...
Booking With Friends:
A feature from www.seetickets.com and Paypal lets small groups of friends pay individually for their tickets. One person chooses the seats, and clicks the "Split It with PayPal' button at the end of the purchase confirmation page. They then log into or create a Paypal account. Once in, they enter the details (email or mobile number) of the friends, including the amount each owes. They click "Request Money" and each person gets an email with a "Pay Now" button, to pay individually.
If you are collecting tickets at the Box Office
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.
One reader says,
"I would offer a word of advice about collecting pre-booked tickets from the box office. We got there just in time (about 2.30pm - the show was at 3pm) before the queue really built up. We had to queue for 10 minutes, but as we left, the queue was outside and along the side of the theatre along Shaftesbury Avenue. It only needs one or two argumentative people in the line and everything snarls up. My advice. If you have to collect pre-booked tickets allow plenty of time."
Wise words, feels the monkey.
Compare online availability
A reader suggests that if you get offered good seats online but are still not sure and want to check another day it is best to minimize the window and hold those offered ( you can often keep for up to 5 minutes) rather than "go back" in your browser. Then open a new booking window to check other availability. If you close the window the seats seem to get blocked for 5minutes and then when released there is no guarantee that you will get the same ones back.
That single seat online
Many online systems that allow you to choose your own tickets won't let you leave a single seat - for example if there are 3 together and you want two. There are two ways around this: 1) if you have two computers or two DIFFERENT types of browser e.g. Windows Explorer and Firefox, hold that single seat on one machine or in one browser - put them in the basket, just clicking them isn't enough. Switch on the other machine / browser, go to the same page and you should now be able to buy the two seats. Then release the ticket on machine / browser 1.
2) Phone the box office if you want a single seat out of two. Have the online page available and, just before you give the date you wish to book for and the clerk goes to check things, hold one seat of the 2 by putting into the basket. The clerk should see the other seat as a single and be able to sell it to you.
Neither of these always work, but are worth a go, if the performance is quiet and there is not likely to be competition for either ticket... you do need time to mess around a bit, though - might be cheaper to go make a friend in the end...
Failing that, threats of action under the "Disability Discrimination Act" may also work... or not, depending how authoritative and not like a chump you sound... not a recommendation, just an observation though.
Ticketless Entry, E Tickets... and no smartphone...
An increasing number of venues email tickets rather than posting them. Most send a PDF attachment - PDF being the name of a form of document that most computers can open and you can print your tickets from it... or just save the tickets to your smartphone and open the document on arrival (practice first, to make sure it works, and charge your phone).
Some venues, though, insist that you download and use their phone App. The ticket stays on the app, and you open the app and show the ticket for scanning on arrival.
If you don't have a smartphone, you have to take the credit card you used*, a confirmation print-out and government issued photo-ID to get in. After arguing with the security at the door, that means getting in line at a desk, and your card is swiped through a machine to produce a small docket with your seat number on it. *NOTE: if the card you used has expired before the event, KEEP IT ANYWAY as it will work to let you in. If you do change your card number, contact the ticket company's customer services to get it updated as soon as your new card arrives.
The monkey has found a way to print off a ticket from a smartphone app. This means you don't need a smartphone at all, just your desktop or laptop computer. It also means, for those who like keeping ticket stubs after, that you have one for your collection.
So: what you need is a program that can turn your normal computer into a smartphone to let apps work on it. Free program www.bluestacks.com does just that, so download it. You can do it for Android or Apple. The monkey went with Android.
Use the "Google Play" or "Apple Store" app it comes with to go to the Google or Apple Apps store. You will need a Google or Apple account to download apps, but you probably have one anyway. If not, open one at Google.com or Apple.
Download the App the ticket company requires you to. It will appear in Bluestacks. You can then open the app on your normal computer, and navigate to your event ticket.
Take a "screen shot" of the ticket (hit the Ctrl button and Prt Scr button on your keyboard to do that). Then paste the screen shot into "Picture Manager" or any other bit of photo printing software you happen to have. Perhaps use the "crop" function to cut off the bits of the picture you don't want and just leave the ticket. Then just print out the ticket (use "normal" or "fine" setting on the printer to ensure the colour is strong on the QR code the entry machine will read) and get it scanned on the night to get in.
The monkey has found that the QR code printed is "time-sensitive." Don't generate the ticket or print it out until the last moment, a few hours before, if possible.
Obviously, take a back-up with you on the night in case it doesn't work for some reason, but so far so good for the monkey.
Most theatres now sell ticket insurance with your tickets. 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!
There is also an annual policy available at www.insuremy.tickets.
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, though one reader comments, in 2014:
"We'd originally booked to see a show in January and paid the extra £3 insurance which promised to refund all your money whatever the circumstances. We both came down with flu, were highly infectious and our doctor didn't want us to go to the surgery and spread this, but the ticket insurers said we had to provide medical evidence before they'd refund and were really unhelpful. When you look at what they want you to provide for each different circumstance it really puts you off. We wanted to rebook immediately as so few seats were left and fortunately ATG were really helpful and let us change the evening for £5 per ticket. With the high cost of theatre tickets in London you always worry that something will stop you going and you'll lose your money. Insurance seems a good idea, but we won't be using that company again."
Worth buying only if the ticket company are not good on exchanges then, notes the monkey - ATG and Delfont Mackintosh are best, it feels.
Pay for the VIP Treatment
Guarantee Your Favourite Star Will actually perform that night
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.
Security checks are now happening at every theatre. It takes time. Arrive 30 minutes before, minimum, to clear them. They won't start the show before the line is gone BUT you won't have time to do anything except get to your seat if there are only moments to go.
Entering the theatre
The doors from the foyer into the auditorium are marked with rows and seat numbers. Use the correct door of you will have to fight your way along a row inside. In a full house this is hard and embarrassing if the play has started.
Leaving the Theatre
Wait for the crowd to disperse, or sprint for it? Theatremonkey says move fast, go first, but be clever. Human nature is to use the same door to leave by as you came in. Theatres limit entry to one door, since only one leads from foyer to auditorium and ticket checks are easier. Fire regulations, however, require numerous direct street exits. As your fellow audience members fight their way back to the foyer, look for any green EXIT signs and doors with bars marked PUSH TO OPEN on them. Use them. You will avoid the crush and if you need to return to the front of the theatre, you can walk comfortably outside, avoiding the jostling on the stairs.
One reader, Brin, has found that,
"I have seen usherettes standing in front of fire doors at the end of perf, then asking people to exit via other doors, I have even seen fire doors sealed with a security tag with an "Alarmed" warning, we both know that this is very naughty."
Indeed, this is naughty. If it happens to you, do report it to the local fire department - they will be most interested...as will the local court when it imposes a very spectacular fine!
Souvenirs, Cast Recordings and Programmes
Many productions, especially musicals, have a tidy range of goods for sale in the foyer.
Programmes and Souvenir brochures are discussed elsewhere.
Other stuff includes T Shirts, Sweatshirts, badges / pins, trinket boxes, watches, mugs etc etc. These goodies are generally only sold in the theatre itself, though www.DressCircle.com. Dress Circle Records carry odd items, and also carries a range of stuff from shows which have closed, check with them for details as obviously supplies are limited.
Decide for yourself if buying souvenir stuff is worth the cash, though to be fair, the quality is usually not bad - often pretty good. All the stuff looks like it is made by one factory, only the show logo varies. Unsatisfactory goods are rare, returns are handled by the theatre general manager, write to them to get a refund / replacement. They can also mail goods if you forget to buy on the day, but write first rather than telephone.
Cast recordings are usually cheaper from high street or internet stores. The mail order price in programme advertisements are usually high, especially when postage is taken into account, and the foyer price can also be outrageous. Around £14 is the going rate, £10 is a good deal for a single CD.
A fascinating outlet for Vinyl LP lovers - with around 500 UK and American original cast albums (all listed on their website) available is:
THE RECORD ALBUM,
8 Terminus Road, Brighton, Sussex. BN1 3PD.
Online at: www.therecordalbum.com
Telephone: 01273 323853
The shop itself is open Monday to Saturday 11am until 4.30pm.
Established 1948, this shop is said to be the longest established independent record shop in the UK and has an extensive stock with a friendly and knowledgeable owners, who took over in 2018, too.
Very few soundtracks and souvenirs are collectable. Only recordings and items from failed shows or surviving from the earliest days of a long running hit accrue really high value. They usually must have been circulated in limited quantities, and be in mint condition. Theatremonkey puts the free flyers advertising shows before they open as a better investment than most merchandise. Buy stuff for the memory, not the potential value. Memories are worth far more any day.
Reader Brin notes that, "I just can't get over the way you are processed through the souvenir shop at the Lyceum, it's a major mine field if you have children, or even worse, some one else's children who are just pester agents. The worst culprits I remember were the Moscow State Circus and the Harlem Globe Trotters." Fair comment, feels the monkey.
Theatremonkey of course has fur to keep warm. For everybody else the choice is CHECK IT or CARRY IT.
CHECK IT. At the Royal National and Barbican theatres check it every time. Big, free (tip, say £1 per coat if the retrieval is the usual quick process) and efficient cloakrooms are worth using. For your own safety though, take cash, credit cards and keys with you - the staff are very honest and security worries are few, but things do fall out of coats sometimes. Elsewhere, cloakrooms are small, expensive and understaffed, where available at all. So…
CARRY IT. Stuck with your coat in the theatre DO NOT put it under the seat or in the aisle. At best it will get trodden on, mostly it will just get a number of interesting stains. At worst it will be robbed. Yes, during the performance, as your attention is distracted by what is happening on stage
Theatremonkey advises making a well of your coat around you. In other words, take it off, open it as if you were to wear it, place in your seat, and sit in it as you would on the bus, just with your arms not in the armholes. This sounds daft, but it is better then sitting with the thing on your lap.
NEVER, EVER, LEAVE YOUR COAT UNATTENDED DURING THE INTERVAL. TAKE IT WITH YOU. THIEVES DO STRIKE REGULARLY IN THEATRES DURING THE INTERVAL.
Order your interval drink in advance
Most theatre bars are small and quickly get crowded at the interval. Pick a less busy bar, generally one not in the Stalls (fewer seats upstairs means fewer customers). By ordering in advance, your drinks will be waiting next to a number on the bar, or nearby shelf, as soon as the first act finishes. Enjoy them while watching the less well informed fight for attention, get served and down their beverage in about ten minutes flat while you peacefully sup away.
Brin, a reader, advises,
"The price of ice creams have shot through the roof, I have taken my own cool box before now. Drinks as well, they cost a fortune."
Certainly a way around the problem, feels the monkey.
Some theatres now allow you to use an app to order direct from your phone - details are in the theatre programme, and website www.Zervedapp.com. Do this BEFORE and NOT DURING the show, though, please, begs the monkey!
Hiring Opera Glasses
These opera glasses, which enhance the theatregoers experience, are available for renting during the show performance. They are located between the pairs of seats in most theatres, however, sometimes you will also find additional opera glasses on pelmets at the rear of the theatre.
You will need £1 to hire the glasses which is done by inserting your coin into the slot on top of the holder when you will be able to release them for your immediate use.
Replace opera glasses by pushing them down gently into the holder before leaving your seat at the end of the show. BE CAREFUL not to do this DURING the show or you will have to pay again to release them!
If you forget to return them to the holder, hand them to a member of staff or leave them on the arm of your seat, but, under no circumstances leave the theatre with them, as theatregoers have, in the past, been prosecuted for stealing!
Keen theatremonkeys buy their own, but you have to see a lot of shows to justify the cost.
Other Interval Tips
As a rule there is only one restroom on each level for each gender. Worse, ladies have the usual problem of insufficient cubicles. It is worth going upstairs to find quieter restrooms during intervals. Managers normally check restrooms before giving the signal for the second half to start, so don't worry too much if the time is ticking away.
Smokers need to go outside to do so. Some theatres issue laminated passes to those who couldn't produce their tickets as they were leaving through a side door. So, take your ticket with you - or get a pass from the usher at the door, seems to be the rule.
Under 7 or so, gauge their concentration level or stick to theatre aimed directly at their age group. But make sure they get addicted to live performance as soon as possible!
Even stuff seemingly ideal for children like "The Lion King" require considerable intellectual investment. Sitting still for three hours is a lot to ask of any child, and £65 for a ticket is a lot of cash to invest in making them sit. Be sure they will get plenty out of the experience before taking them, or you could put them off for life.
Theatregoers are intolerant of children in general. So are theatres. Babies are not admitted anyway, and there are no changing facilities in toilets.
For older children, booster seats are available in some theatres, ask. Shorter adults may also benefit! One reader says of the Queen's Theatre in 2012,
"I had an 11 year old with me and emailed the theatre management in advance to reserve a booster cushion. Glad I did as they were all gone when we arrived but a staff member was waiting for me at the top of the stairs with cushion in hand - top marks for great customer service!"
BOOSTERZ™ Inflatable Booster Cushions are now available to borrow at some theatres. Raising a child 10 to 14 cm, this easily inflated - by pump or pure 'puff power' - item can be loaned from ushers at the venue. For regular theatregoers, they can also be purchased, at just £7.99 each direct from the inventors at www.boosterz.co.uk, and the more you buy, the greater the discount!
One suggestion is to buy two groups of two seats - put the kids in the seats in front of the adults. That may work - if you get someone short in front of the kids. On the other hand, seated together, you can swap among yourselves in a single row. Also, many theatres insist that a child is seated next to an adult anyway.
Sitting in a box or in the back row of the auditorium, on an aisle, is ideal as it will allow you to make a quick escape if your child turns fractious. Also, theatregoers will not notice a squirming kid behind them, and children are too well brought up to kick the seats in front... aren't they?
Remember the slump
When a tall person sits in front of you, blocking your view of the stage, DO NOT DESPAIR. Around thirty seconds into the show the audience slump occurs. Ms Tall will relax her posture and sink down into her seat, clearing the view. This happens invariably, so if you cannot move seat, it is an effect worth hoping for, cos it usually delivers.
Watch the Background
Everyone watches the main performer, and the person talking to them. Usually though, there are several other highly talented people sharing the stage, along with scenery and lights. Not only will everyone around the main players also be giving detailed performances worth watching, but stage designers being what they are, count on some wit in their designs. On leaving you can turn to your companion and say 'did you notice?' - the argument will provide a pleasant way to pass the homeward trip.
Annoy the Actors
Sitting in the very front row the actors can, if they are not concentrating hard, notice you. Bad performances can be rewarded by a little discreetly annoying behaviour on your part. Use your imagination. Remember though, just unsettle the performer, and don't ruin it for the rest of the audience or you will be asked to leave.
Start a "spontaneous" standing ovation
The audience will often, unprompted, rise to their feet during the end of the show "bows" (or the "who's best" as a comic called it). This makes the cast feel great as they receive a standing ovation - moving an audience to stand up as a result of their skill.
If the show is mediocre though, it will not happen. So, just for fun, start one and see the surprise on the actors faces!
What you do is wait until the "star" appears and begins the walk to the front of the stage to bow. Stand up clapping wildly and the rest of the audience will follow. As an exercise in group psychology, this one is unbeatable.
See a final matinee
The penultimate performance traditionally seems to see the cast let their hair down a little. Playing each-others' parts, substituting props or dialogue, and general mucking about, often egged on by friends in the audience is the rule. An amusing time is guaranteed.
Impersonate a Star / Critic
The bold sweep in, confidant and bejewelled disguised behind dark glasses. This only works if you are headed for the best seats - would you imagine Michael Douglas in the rear Balcony? - and at a busy performance. The heads will turn as the snobs rubberneck.
To be a critic, just look scruffy, old, board, drunk, and show up on opening night or a performance very soon after. Actually, only the last is compulsory. Write furiously on a pad at the interval. Some bozo will be aching to read over your shoulder, wondering who you are. This scribbling tactic can be used to unnerve the cast too especially if combined with ostentatious glances at glossy photographs as if trying to recognise performers from their publicity shots (see above). Anybody impersonating / spotting theatremonkey should email a photo to our address. No prizes for any effort received.
Spot your fellow audience members
The monkey has assembled a huge list of the worst in audience behaviour, see how many you can observe, and feel free to contact monkey with your own!
Attend an Opening Night
London has a tradition of Opening or First Nights. The press sees the show for the first time, and the audience comprises guests of the cast, producer, celebrities and journalists. For commercial productions, the general public is mostly excluded, unless the theatre has some particularly awful seats in the balcony to use, in which case they might just be sold to avoid an empty seat on this special night. Check with the Box Office.
State subsidised productions, at the Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company are more democratic. Mailing list members can apply for opening night tickets (at discount rate for non-musicals), and are given beat available seats. On occasion the audience is even treated to a little extra - the first night of 'Carrie' saw a firework display for everyone after the show. Too bad it was freezing February.
Note: it is not done to ask for fellow audience members' autographs at opening nights. Even if you can cross into the roped off VIP section. Just enjoy the ambience.
Invest in the show
Seriously, become an 'angel' and own an interest in the profits. You get tickets to the opening night and an invite to the party, and very occasionally you get some of your money back too. High risk investment for those with deep pockets, and do not expect the largest producers to welcome you on board - they have their own lists which are closed to new backers. Others will welcome you (watch out for Max Bialystock though). Contact Susanne at: The Society of London Theatre, 32 Rose Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ET. Telephone 020 7557 6700 to be placed on the list of prospective investors.
"Old Vic Productions" is another opportunity, linked to this famous theatre. Investments start at £5000, and more information can be obtained by calling 020 7401 3534, visiting www.oldvicproductions.com or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Stage One" is the latest way to invest. It should appeal to those with limited funds (investments start at £300). More information online at www.stageone.uk.com or by telephone on 020 7257 8088. A registered charity, it supports new producers and is the trading name of the Theatre Investment Fund Ltd.
A similar scheme, The Theatre Fund is guided by ACT Productions, a major West End producer.
Stage Door Autographs
The stage door or actors entrance is usually in a side or back alleyway. The bigger the star, the less likely (for their own safety and crowd security) they will appear to sign autographs. Ask the stage door keeper POLITELY if the object of your desire will be able to sign. Either the keeper will have been briefed to take your programme or book to be signed and mailed back to you, or they may call down to the actor and ask what to do. Sometimes the actor emerges, or the keeper will take your programme in to be signed and bring it back (who REALLY signs in this case is of course, unknown). You can though, just be told no. Please accept this and go. It is not the keeper's fault. The area around the stage door is busy, and asking you to wait some distance from it and outside is not being difficult, just practical, as the whole team have to leave through this exit. Accept it and try to keep out of the way as you wait.
Better bets may be to catch the actor going into the theatre by hanging about on the street near the stage door about an hour before the show. Have a working pen, paper and a respectfully polite attitude. Actors are human (OK I have never eaten with one) and they are entitled to courtesy - if they are having a bad day in their life you are the last thing they need. On stage you get a performance you are paying for. Off stage is their personal time, your intrusion is into this and is on their terms, not yours.
If you are planning to collect an autograph, do take a working pen and something (not a body part - this is not a rock concert) to sign e.g. a programme or your autograph book. The monkey recommends taking two pens - a ballpoint and a thin felt tip / marker type. This is because in its' experience ballpoint pens don't work in cold weather, and felt tips will write on anything under most weather conditions!
Do also remember: Stage door areas are often in dark alleyways. If you have to wait after the evening show, the streets around will often empty of people...consider your personal safety at all times, please!!
Special Access Services
Each theatre offers a different challenge to wheelchair, guide dog, sign language and other needs visitors. Theatremonkey lists information for each venue.
They are also mapped out by:
Artsline 020 7388 2227, email email@example.com.
Vocaleyes, an audio description service is also available at certain performances. Details for this are at www.vocaleyes.co.uk, or call 020 7375 1043. They also provide, in partnership with www.mousetrap.org.uk a service called "Envision" for blind and partially-sighted young people alone or with their schools. Participants spend a day at the theatre, with a drama workshop, touch tour and audio-described performance with front stalls seats.
The Disabled Audience Project on 020 7557 6700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Some LW Group Theatres - Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Adelphi, Palace, London Palladium may have programmes available on CD to aid the sight impaired. Call their helpline on 020 7087 7960 or 0870 895 5505 (Minicom 020 7087 7839) to find out if they are available for the production you wish to see.
www.visitlondon.com/accessible has details of accessible hotel rooms in the West End, describing all facilities and with photographic route descriptions for moving between key parts of the hotel building.
www.accesscard.org.uk costs £15 for three years. It turns your specific needs into symbols on a (credit card sized) identity card. Many box office computer systems have access to an online version of your card, meaning you can book online as normal but be recognised as having access needs and assisted / given concession rates accordingly.
Available at some theatres. Ask the Box Office for details. These usually show you a bit of the theatre the public do not see. It always amazes theatremonkey how poor dressing rooms are, and the conditions thespians must often endure.
Best tours, Monkey and readers reckons are the Royal National Theatre and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Both are involving; and Drury Lane in particular offers a few surprises along the way. One reader reports from the Drury Lane tour in February 2009 (spoiler alert for some),
"My wife and I went along on the tour as she had got me it for my birthday. We both didn't really know what to expect but as the few reviews that were out there were positive we thought that it might well turn out OK! We were not wrong with our earlier predictions and the tour turned out to be a real highlight of our day in London.
It would be unfair of me to go into the stories and things that you are told on the tour as that is what you go along for! However, what I can tell you is that you meet a lot of characters from the theatres past. Brilliantly brought to life by two actors who you can tell really love their jobs! Throughout the tour you meet characters such as David Garrick, Richard Sheridan and Nell Gwynne who tell you about their experiences with the theatre and also about their lives.
You get the usual warning of "as this is a working theatre each tour will be different." In other words, don't expect to go into the Auditorium. However, we were lucky enough on our tour to be taken across the back of the Balcony and to see some of the understudies rehearsing for 'Oliver!' So they will try and get you wherever they can! The other places that you visit are the Royal retiring room, the original tunnels that had burrows to all kinds of places in London. We also had the chance to visit the underneath of the stage and see the workings. This was fascinating to think you were standing underneath the biggest stage in London! One interesting fact I will share with you. If you were to take the Fortune Theatre and put it in the middle of the The Theatre Royal, you could still drive a car round the outside of it!
All in all, this is a must for those people that are really into their theatre history. Even those who are not can still laugh along with the anecdotes of the characters and appreciate touring one of the most impressive performance spaces in London!"
In December 2014 at the London Palladium, a reader says,
"On the 12th of December I went on the London Palladium theatre tour which was fantastic, the tour guide was very informative and clearly loves his job, we did the tour back to front as this being the day after opening night for CATS the company were going to be taking part in a photo shoot on the stage. So we started the tour backstage and then moved onto the actual Palladium stage. I could not believe how little room there was backstage or how small the stage was compared to how it looks on TV. After the backstage tour we then did the auditorium and some of the back room areas that the public never gets to see, for only £12 and for 2 hours I would strongly advise anyone to book this tour."
Sociable and not just interested in theatre?
www.londonivc.com London IVC Theatre Club organises several sociable theatre trips each month. The club is run by members so there's no cover charge on ticket prices. Members meet once a month to discuss forthcoming plays. There are also opportunities to take part in other activities including sporting and cultural - see their website for details.
The Theatre Cafe
At 99 St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AZ. Showtunes playing on IPod, walls full of memorabilia including a broom from "Wicked" above the door and gold discs from "We Will Rock You." IPads at each table allow you to buy tickets as you sup (the place is owned by Londontheatrebookings, a respected ticket agency), and the atmosphere is welcoming.
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 www.theatretokens.com 24/7 or on Tokenline 0844 887 7878 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, 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.
Another reader reminds others,
"We were given 2 Ticketmaster gift cards purchased at W.H. Smiths, unfortunately, we didn't realise that these cards are valid for 12 months only from the time of activation, by the time I came to booking some seats the gift cards were no longer valid. We wasted £130. Is there somewhere on your website that could remind people to check the date and validity of their gift cards. The writing on the back of the gift cards is tiny and it may not be obvious."
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.
Fringe Venue Lighting
Theatremonkey reader Mark Hannon passes on this very valuable advice to those wanting to see a play in a small or fringe venue:
"Especially in smaller (around 250 seat) and the worse pub theatres; those in the front 2 or 3 rows need a welding mask to look at the stage as the lights are just way too bright!
Sidebar (those lights placed at the edges of the stage in the wings) and Front Of House bar lights (placed in the theatre pointing towards the stage) rarely pose problems, but overeager overstage and backlighting leave fine performances unwatchable.
If we are in a darkened space, I feel that clear sightlines easily outweigh proximity to it. I've seen a play set in a dungeon where the lights lit most of the auditorium!
As for squeaks, don't start me about cyberlights! These are motorised so they can move during the performance, useful for musicals and Top Of The Pops (a British pop music show).
Anyway stage lights are a minimum of 500watts and get very hot, very quickly. Normal oil burns off - at best it stinks, at worst it triggers the smoke alarms! Specialist hi-temp greases (copaslip, molyslip) are available but expensive...
...Next time you hear the lights squeaking and scraping along with the rhythm ask who's the cheapskate git with the maintenance job!!!! Very often the local hire shop for Amateur Dramatics companies is to blame, but if you pay for tickets expect your money's worth. If nobody says nowt, guess what happens?!
Valuable advice, and an interesting insight too, thinks the monkey.