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London Tip: How to score cheap theater tickets

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Billy Elliot makes a splash; photo by chrisjohnbeckett
Billy Elliot makes a splash; photo by chrisjohnbeckett

London’s many stages and playhouses have countless plays, musicals and operas on offer all summer long—and unlike in New York, tickets here can be had for a song if you know where to look.

As far as prices go, think under 10 pounds. In fact, at one theater, tickets go for 10 pence a head (more on this later)! Here’s how to find the best deals:

Scoring half-price seats for the splashy West End shows-

Chances are if you’re thinking about taking in a show in London, you’re going to want to get the most for your money, i.e. a big-time musical (Billy Elliot, Sister Act) with magnificent production values and perhaps a B-list celebrity star. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just read the reviews and choose wisely as there are more than a few stinkers on the West End. (We’re hearing that Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, for instance, just doesn’t live up to all the sequin and rhinestone hype.)

Tickets for the biggest musicals—especially the most in demand—can run upwards of 60 pounds ($100) apiece. But there are a few ways to save.

1) First, check for discounts online at ticket broker websites. The best aggregator out there is comparetheatretickets.com, which lists all the discounted tickets available from numerous online brokers for every show. For example, a search for Avenue Q tickets on July 23 turned up an 11-pound ($18) ticket in the upper balcony from the retailer Seatem.

Checking out the TKTS offerings; photo by Andyrob

Checking out the TKTS offerings; photo by Andyrob

2) Another sure bet for discounts is the TKTS booth in Leicester Square (Tube to Leicester Square, Piccadilly or Northern line), which sells half-priced tickets for most West End shows the same day of the performance. For the best shot at a wallet-friendly price and a non-nosebleed seat, get there when the booth opens at 10 AM Monday through Saturday (noon on Sundays).

Get thee to the theater!

Individual theaters also offer reduced prices for tickets as part of a concerted effort to bring in a younger crowd. As we reported earlier this year, the National Theatre puts on an annual Travelex 10-pound ticket season in which tickets for quality plays like Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice and Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album start at just 10 pounds ($16) apiece. Tickets are sold via the National Theatre’s website. The current season runs through the fall.

Some theatres even give away a limited number of free tickets for people under age 26. Yup, you read that right. Free. At the National Theatre, for example, all you have to do is sign up for an Entry Pass online and your first ticket to one of the theatre’s shows is absolutely free (after that, you pay 5 pounds per ticket, about $8). There are a ton of off-West End theatres with the free-tickets-for-under-26 deal, including the Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead Theatre, Soho Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Bush Theatre, and Gate Theatre.

Stand up for great theater!

You’d be surprised how many venues in London will let you stand and be counted for incredibly low prices. Both the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera sell standing room tickets in the back of the house starting at 4 pounds ($6.50) and 10 pounds ($16), respectively. At Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, you can experience As You Like It as a groundling would have in the 1600s—standing in front of the stage (cost: 5 pounds or $8). The National Theatre also offers standing tickets for 5 pounds for most shows.

Drum roll please…lest we forget those 10 pence seats-

And here’s the best deal I’ve seen in awhile (aside from the free tickets, of course): At the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, eight standing, restricted-view tickets are sold for only 10 pence (16 cents) apiece an hour before the show. Sure, you have to stand and you may not be able to see the entire stage, but 16 cents is one heck of a deal!

About the author

About the author: Justin Bergman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Monocle magazine. He’s also previously worked for Budget Travel magazine and the Associated Press.

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