If you know you are definitely wanting to see a show and its pedigree is so great because of its stars, director or general word of mouth your best bet is to go during the previews. All shows have a period after they have first begun before the press night. For plays and musicals looking at a run of a few months or more this usually lasts around a fortnight. The idea behind this is to let the show find its feet before letting the critics get their hands on the production. A show can be near perfect as the actors ready the piece in a pre-theatre rehearsal space, but a live audience can change things. This grace period allows tweaks to be made and to reflect this most shows have cheaper ticket prices or special offers in this period. This doesn't mean that the audience will be getting a lower quality performance, so preview priced seats can be a nice little money saver for the public.
Many show will at some point do a special offer. This could come early in the run to help boost initial sales, or further down the line when the show isn't reaching capacity on its own steam. These are usually subject to availability so can be withdrawn if the show suddenly dramatically fills up. If you don't find an early offer on a show when it is first announced the conundrum is whether one will be instated at a later date - should we hold out? If a show is selling reasonably well there's not much point holding out if you can only go on a Saturday, and sometimes this is the same for Fridays. This is the busiest time for shows so you are far less likely to find a discount then. If you can go midweek you have a decent chance of some kind of offer at some point in the run. Avoid school holidays and the last week or so of a show (unless the show is really dying a death).
Some theatres will do on the day discounts at the counter to fill the theatre up. This is a great way to snap up a bargain, particularly if you live in the capital, but there is no guarantee where your seat will be until you get there, and you may find the show isn't doing any counter discounts at all. Try and call the theatre in advance to check. If you live outside of central London you are better to compare online agencies in advance. All online ticket agents should display both the face value and the selling price of the ticket, so if the selling price is less you are onto a winner. The agency should be registered with STAR which stands for Secure Tickets for Authorised Retailers. This will be displayed on the agency's website.
There are a number of booths in Leicester Square and other parts in the heart of London that will promise massive discounts but you may find when you get to the theatre that your ticket is not valid. The only place you know you are safe is the half price ticket booth in the centre of Leicester Square itself, next to the railings surrounding the tiny park there. Shows that have seats remaining on the day will send tickets there to help shift them. If you are not fixed to a certain show you will increase the range of possible discount theatre tickets you can snap up.
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