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 any time!
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 too...so 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.
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 Goodshow.com 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.
Questions about tickets purchased
Theatremonkey website gives pointers towards reliable companies, but it does not operate them and thus can't answer questions about specific transactions readers make with them - either by telephone or online via links mentioned on the site.
You will always need to talk to the company from whom you bought your seats originally. If you bought them from the theatre or the box office telephone line, call them, online - email them at the address given on their websites. If you purchased them from any agency mentioned on this site either online or by phone or in person, you will need to talk to that agency directly, again by telephone or email as appropriate.
For tickets purchased from the "Theatremonkey Ticketshop" ONLY: Questions can be dealt with by the shop's owner, "LoveTheatre". They may be contacted at help.lovetheatre.com.
Collecting Tickets at the Box Office
When you can collect tickets ordered online or by telephone but not mailed to you will depend on where you bought your tickets from. If you bought them through the actual box office's website, then normally you can collect your tickets any time you like when you are passing (except in the hour before any performance you are not attending, when they are busy with other customers). Just give them your booking reference number (bringing along a copy of the confirmation print out helps) and produce the actual card you used to make the booking, and you’ll be fine. If the card is going to expire before you see the show, hang on to it – particularly if the number will change.
If you bought your tickets through any ticket agency rather than the box office, then you do have to collect your ticket in the hour before the show. This is because the agents don’t deliver the tickets to the theatre before then. Lines move pretty quickly, and anyway the show doesn’t begin until the house manager has checked that the box office and all other front of house areas are happy. So, if there was a very long line at the box office, the curtain would be held until it had cleared. Relax, it'll be fine...
How do I find out about ticket availability?
Unlike Broadway, London is secretive and does not reveal anything publicly about how well a show is doing.
If the monkey could post such information, it would, but since it is a regular theatregoing member of the public it is not privy to box office information.
The best way to find out about availability is to go online and find the official box office "select your seat" booking page for that day. Sometimes, they hold back unsold seats, so checking at random intervals will help.
You could also call the box office direct and ask. Mention specific seat numbers and see if they can offer them to you. Even ask directly if seats go to Leicester Square TKTS to be sold at half price. They will often tell you.
Normally, Leicester Square TKTS booth posts its own day's ticket availability, and for up to 7 days ahead online. Go to www.tkts.co.uk, and look for the "What's On Sale" option in the top menu. Due to the events of 2020, the official www.tkts.co.uk website is now offering a service. Tickets are released just after midnight for the coming day for available shows and performances for that day only.
Overseas visitors might also try using the online ticket agency systems to see what they are offered. The monkey notes, however that on occasion these systems only offer poor quality tickets. An international phonecall can prove a good investment.
What is the difference between "preview" performances and "normal" performances?
Previews are the performances before the official opening night, when the press arrive to review the show.
Previews are a chance for the cast and technical team to see how the show works in front of a live audience for the first time after weeks of rehearsal. For a brand new production it is also a time when songs, dances or scenes may be added or cut depending on audience reaction and production team instincts. For revivals of productions there is of course usually no need to add to or cut the text, but things like where people stand on stage or how the set / lighting works could change a little to make the revival the best it can be before the press write about it. For all shows, whether new or revival, it is also a time for the actors to find out how audiences will react to the lines they deliver - and adjust their timing to the expected laughs / silences / movements of scenery etc.
As a general rule, the bigger the show, the more likely the earliest previews are to be cancelled as the scenery breaks down or the show isn't quite ready to be seen in public! You'll get a refund or chance to change your ticket to another performance (if seats are available), but it may prove inconvenient to you of course. As the official opening night date gets closer the show is "frozen" - no more changes are allowed so that everybody can finally settle into the routine that the show will have for the opening night and beyond. Audiences at these later previews will see the finished show, and these performances are often the time that invited industry professionals see it.
I don't have a credit card to make a booking?
This is a real problem now that most bookings are done by telephone or online quoting a number.
For U.K. based people, a few theatres will still accept a written booking with a cheque or postal order. Sadly, many theatres and ticket agencies do not allow you to do this and will not hold theatre tickets while they wait for your money. If they will not hold an option, then you are best off writing to the theatre itself and stating the seats and date you will be willing to accept.
For payment you could also send cash in banknote form. The theatres do not like getting cash in the mail, and the post office discourage it, but if it is not detectable to thieves then you could consider it. Likewise you could buy theatre gift tokens from the theatre and use those - but you'd need a card in the first place.
Overseas visitors face similar problems, without the luxury of postal orders. For them the monkey suggests trying either an international money order or sending English pounds sterling banknotes.
Overseas visitors could also try local ticket agencies who will often be linked to an international company e.g. Ticketmaster. These will let you buy in your own currency, over the counter. They may even have tickets when London is sold out! The downside is that they do charge a higher commission fee than usual. Considering the cost of exchanging money though, you may still find it a reasonable option.
Do London Theatres take the "Euro" currency?
No, not at the moment. The monkey will monitor the situation as it changes.
At the moment, only the TKTS Official Half Price Ticket Booth in Leicester Square takes Euros. The only other way to buy other tickets in Euros is to use a ticket agency in a Euro using country before you arrive in London.
What are "Day Seats" and what does "Personal Callers at the Box Office" mean?
"Day Seats" are tickets, often the front row of the stalls, kept for sale direct from the theatre box office counter on the day of performance to those who visit the theatre personally to buy them. Where shows offer them, "Day Seats" can't be reserved in advance by telephone or online, unless close to show time they are unsold, in which case they may appear.
Those seeking them should go direct to the theatre box office counter on the day of the show. Unlike Broadway's "Rush" seats there is no ballot system at most shows. The tickets go on sale when the box office opens (usually at 10am) on a "first in line gets the most central seat" basis, and when they are gone, they are gone. For this reason, the line can form much earlier on popular shows at busy performances. Tickets may be limited to 1 or 2 per person, and take both credit cards and cash, as the box office may require one or the other. To beat the touts / scalpers, you may be asked to pay by credit card at the time, be given a receipt, then have to call back and exchange the receipt for actual tickets just before the show, by producing the same credit card used earlier.
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 from insuremy.tickets.
Where can I find more information about captioned performances?
STAGETEXT are the people who know: http://www.stagetext.org/performance/. Other theatres do this "in house" and a few have caption generating glasses for hire. As the theatre's box office for details.
Where can I find more information about audio-described performances?www.vocaleyes.co.uk The website of the audio description service available for some shows. Other theatres now do these "in house" - ask.
Where can I find more information that would help access audience members generally? www.artsline.org.uk offers Disabled Theatre visitor information researched from recent site visits, and also offers access information on other London tourist attractions too.
The Society of London Theatre website www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk also has a comprehensive listing, together with an opportunity to download the "Access Guide to London's Theatres" book in PDF format.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.q-park.co.uk 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 www.q-park.co.uk.
ENGLISH TERM……AMERICAN TERM……NOTES
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.
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 Plan...seat 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 £10 to £15 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 at many shows.
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.
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 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.
I'm larger than average, can you help on locating suitable seats?
Reader Sam helped the monkey on this one.
London theatres were generally built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, expected to last only a few years…and cater for people far less well nourished and generally smaller than today. As a result, the tall and, er, broader person may well find seats and legroom less than accommodating.
Legroom (and indeed all matters of seat comfort and view) are discussed on a venue-by-venue basis on this site, of course. In the case of legroom it is generally the ends of rows without seats in front, rows with gangways in front (but no partitioning walls / bars) and boxes with movable seating that provide most. Sadly, aside from desirable seating on a gangway in the centre stalls or circle, the other options generally sacrifice some view for the comfort. This is minimised by taking row ends or boxes towards the rear of the theatre, rather than at the front near the sides of the stage. As any mathematician will tell you, the distance increases the viewing angle - sometimes significantly – though watch for overhangs cutting the top off the stage!
For the broader proportioned, a few theatres in London provides "extra wide" seating - including the Adelphi and London Palladium. A few have slightly wider seats in general as they are more modern, but since the difference is literally only around 5cm, it isn’t much, alas. Theatres with very slightly wider seats include the Adelphi, Noel Coward (centre balcony only), Sondheim (stalls only), Prince Of Wales and the London Palladium. The Royal Court Theatre Downstairs has arm-rests that can be raised between seats if two tickets are purchased in the stalls.
Venues with some bench or chair / bar-stool seating without arm-rests include the Donmar Warehouse*, Pit*, Trafalgar Studio Two* and also Upper Circle row K (normally not on public sale) at the Playhouse Theatre. Barbican Theatre Upper Circle row AA* and BB* seats 1 and 11 are also wider, as are Noel Coward balcony seats B3 and C3.
Note that venues marked * have limited legroom in most seats and access to centre of the row will be harder for many. Generally only the front row of the venue or the few seats without seats in front of them will be suitable.
At other venues, in general only those theatres with boxes containing movable seating are even partially accommodating. Do also be aware that sometimes these are also a way from the theatre entrances and restroom facilities making further difficulties for those with health issues.
One reader says of the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue:
"It was hell! I purchased seat number D10 in the Upper Circle for a performance of "Smaller" (April 2006). Oh the irony at even mentioning the name of the play! Unfortunately, the seat I sat in was not the one I had paid for. I found that I had to sit sideways, not only due to the non-existent leg room, but also due to the seats being extremely narrow.
As a slightly broader theatre-goer (size 18 and 5ft 8), I never expect to be sitting in a seat that is vastly wider than myself, but I do expect to be able to fit into the seat. Imagine my mortification to find that I couldn't! I initially tried by sitting sideways, but found this unbearable as there was no leg room and both seats either side of me was occupied. in the end I spent the first half of the play standing at the back, and managed to find an unoccupied aisle seat to sit in for the second half, which I still had to sit in sideways but was able to stretch one leg out into the aisle. However, I now find that I have bruises on my left leg which was unfortunately wedged against the seat in front.
As the two leads of the play are both role models for the larger lady, I would be amazed to discover I am the only person with this complaint. It is debatable whether Alison Moyet would be able to squeeze into the seat, while Dawn French wouldn't have a hope! I have been told that if I had purchased a seat in the stalls or Dress Circle I wouldn't have had this problem. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford these, so am in effect being punished for being overweight! Isn't it about time theatres realised they need to update their seating arrangements for the 21st Century audience?!"
Another reader reports the following experiences,
Royal Albert Hall: "We were in box number 25 with an amazing view. All the boxes appear to have the same chairs however... These are free standing metal chairs. As a larger person I often find seats in the theatre "snug" but this was the first time that I have ever found a theatre seat that I absolutely could not fit in. This was mortifyingly embarrassing... the seats were very narrow.. even my husband who is tall but not fat, found them to be extremely snug. I decided to ask our box host (member of staff) whether there was a chair without arms - he was not sure but very quickly came back with a chair without arms. As the chairs were free standing it was possible to swap the chair and I was able to enjoy the show in comfort. I wanted to let you know that these seats may not be suitable for larger people."
Aldwych Theatre: "strange seats at the side of the upper circle. at an angle... not a good view in my opinion but not uncomfortable."
Apollo Victoria Theatre: "Good leg room and large seats in the stalls. Less good within the circle area in both areas.. but still acceptable."
Dominion Theatre: "Very comfy and large seats in the stalls for the larger person. Circle area the seats seemed slightly smaller but still acceptable."
Noel Coward Theatre: "big enough seats in the stalls, slightly cramped but I suppose O.K."
Always check with venues before booking, as different production designs can alter seating suitability, particularly in the front row stalls and ends of rows, and in boxes. If in any doubt, contacting the theatre’s disabled helpline should elicit specific information.
On a more positive note, Richard, of singles site, TallSingles.co.uk says,
"Actually there are two things us tall people are cautious of when booking tickets 1) is there long legroom (its pretty horrible watching a 3 hour performance with your knees up around your ears!) and 2) is there anyone sitting behind who's view is going to be interrupted (this is mainly so a) the people behind can still see the performance which they paid for but also b) so we don't get the "Oi we can't see" or "Now I can only see half the stage" comments! (he he)."
So, it does work both ways!