What To Look For In London Theatre
| By Steve Rich
The carved phoenixes that adorn the edges of the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue dress circle. The seashell lighting that gives an undersea feel to its namesake the Apollo Victoria. The silver mousetrap and Meg’s plaque in the St Martin’s foyer, the actual well under a cover at the back of the Sadler’s Well’s Theatre.
All are reminders of the amazing wealth of history to be found in the West End’s grandest old ladies. But this blog isn’t about that.
This is about the more modern things to look for when considering a West End trip. The things that will ensure not only your comfort and enjoyment, but also that your hard-earned money goes as far as possible. With anyone able to set up an internet site and theatre being the kind of industry that attracts those hoping to ‘make a quick buck, and vanish,’
If you are reading this, you are already one of the lucky ones.
Londontheatredirect.com is a genuine, accredited source of theatre tickets, and it isn’t just me saying it. Look at the bottom of the page, and you will see the S.T.A.R symbol. This confirms that this company are a member of “The Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers” – S.T.A.R. for short.
A self-regulating industry body, members pay a hefty fee each year, and are vetted before being allowed to use the symbol. When you see it, you will know the tickets are genuine – obtained from the theatre and producers of your chosen show, and that the pricing will be set according to their code guidelines. Better still, if there is a problem, both the company and S.T.A.R are committed to resolving it if possible. Can’t say fairer, can you?
If you happen to be reading this on your phone as you walk along, look out! You nearly got hit by a bus. Recovered? Look around you.
If you are in the West End, there are hundreds of ticket booths, all promising “deals” for the day. If they don’t have the S.T.A.R symbol, keep walking. At best, you will get a ticket that lets you pay ten times the original price to sit in the third balcony behind a pillar. At worst, you won’t get in at all, as your ticket is either fake or the original owner has arrived before you.
Did I mention heights? Worth knowing, if you don’t like them. Some theatres do have balconies inducing vertigo. Tickets are cheaper, but you won’t see much with your eyes closed. Luckily, ground floor seats (even boxes at the first level) are often reasonably priced. Sure, the view isn’t the best, but you’ll see more with your eyes open.
If you are shorter, the balconies could be for you. Seats up there are tiered – steps between each row – rather than on a sloped floor as the ground floor ‘stalls’ seats usually are. If you don’t mind the height, a good pick.
If you are of a height yourself, though, do consider the stalls. Many balconies were designed to be stone steps for the impoverished to sit on. Malnutrition kept folk short in those days, and adding food and seats results in cramped legroom. A few seats have nothing in front, but expect pain if you are one who needs to stretch their legs at least under the seat in front. In that case only the stalls usually will do. My own website, Theatremonkey.com has over 16 years experience in guiding visitors to the best choices here.
Finally, do avoid further pain by picking a show you actually will enjoy! There’s plenty of reviews to guide you, and synopsis of the stories around too. Think about what you enjoy on TV (sorry, no baking musicals since “Sweeney Todd” – probably for the best, in that case) or reading, and choose accordingly. Again, if you are looking away from the stage, you’ll miss it and still be charged as if you were looking...
Live theatre is wonderful at its best, an experience always, and always worth looking at – even better with the informed eye of one who has read how to see it best.
The author runs Theatremonkey.com, London’s Independent Theatre and Music Venues' Expert Seat Reviewer and Discount Deal Hunter since 2000.