Last week, after my second trip to see the new production of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre, someone asked me if it was as good as last time. Although the answer was undoubtedly ‘yes’ - in fact, if anything, I’d say it was better - what I actually said was, ‘It was different…’
The reason? Last time, we sat upstairs in the circle, and it was amazing. We could comfortably see the whole stage, and take in the spectacle of the show without getting neck ache. This time, on the other hand, we were towards the front of the stalls, and everything was a lot closer. We had to turn out heads to see what was going on at the sides of the stage, and the helicopter was almost directly above us. But what we got instead was the intimacy. It was like the rest of the theatre had disappeared; we could see the actors up close, witness the emotions on their faces and feel their joy and pain, and that made the show come alive in a very different way. It wasn’t just something we were watching from afar any more - it was almost like we were a part of the story. And that got me thinking about what a massive difference your seat can make to how you see a show.
Of course, there’s the obvious argument that you get what you pay for. When I saw Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown at the Playhouse Theatre, my friends and I being on a budget, went for the cheapest possible seats. As a result, we ended up at one end of the front row of the upper circle, unable to see half the stage, but not sure how much we could lean forward without blocking the view of those behind us. And then there was the hilarious occasion a few years ago when I went to see Evita. When we got to the balcony scene - you know, probably the most famous scene in the whole show - we were so far back that we couldn’t actually see her at all, which ruined the moment slightly.
But it’s not always as obvious as ‘buy the most expensive ticket, have the best experience’. I’ll only ever pay for seats in the stalls for The Lion King, even though a ticket for the Royal Circle is just as pricey. I’ve sat in both, and as far as I’m concerned, for this particular show, there’s no contest. Without giving too much away to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, there’s something that happens at the beginning, and experiencing it from anywhere but the stalls just isn’t the same - even if it is a lot easier to take it all in from upstairs. On the other hand, I’d imagine that something like Wicked is better viewed from a bit higher up because of all the flying about and defying of gravity that goes on (I’ve only ever sat in the circle, so can’t really judge, and I’m sure there are some fans who’d disagree).
At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a best seat in the house, because it all depends not just on your budget but also on the play or musical that you’re seeing, and on what you personally want from the experience. I’m generally happy just being in a theatre, so unless I’m sat behind a pillar - or someone eating/texting/talking - I probably won’t be complaining. And if someone offered me a ticket for The Lion King but the seat was upstairs, I doubt I’d say no (just thought I’d drop that in there...).
The fact is, wherever we end up sitting, at least we're there - and that's the most important thing.
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