Buying London theatre tickets
Here's the ActDrop guide to all you need to know about buying tickets for London theatre shows ...
Written by: Peter Brown
Published: Thu 28 May 2020Categories: London Fringe - London West End - Tickets
If you're planning to go to the theatre in London, you'll usually need to think in advance about buying tickets.
Though you can buy tickets at a theatre just before the start of a show, you may be disappointed especially with popular shows in the West End where tickets can sell-out fast - especially for busy nights like Fridays and Saturdays.
So here's our low-down on buying tickets for shows across the capital ...
The West End
This is an area in the centre of London which, in spite of its small overall size, is home to more than 40 theatres.
It's in the West End where you'll find long-running shows like Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Matilda, Disney's Lion King and much more.
Top shows, world-class actors, fabulous costumes, massive orchestras, staggering sets and effects - you'll find all of that in West End shows.
With the glamour and the big star names come top prices.
You can pay over £200 for a seat at West End shows - but you don't have to pay nearly so much.
There's a range of tickets on offer depending on where you sit in the theatre, and the time you choose to go.
And there are promotional offers and discounts, which can make your visit much more affordable.
Where you sit in a theatre will determine the price you pay for your ticket.
In general, the further away from the stage you are, the less you'll pay.
Most West End theatres have separate areas with different pricing.
Stalls - the lowest tier of seating which is in front of the stage; you usually pay more at the front of the stalls, than the rear stalls.
Dress circle - on the next level of the theatre, overhanging the stalls; again seats are more expensive at the front of the circle than at the back.
Grand circle - the next level above the Dress Circle; prices here will usually be cheaper, but you will be further from the stage.
Balcony - the highest level in a theatre, and right at the back, so you might be quite a way from the action.
Boxes - almost like small rooms at the sides of some theatres; they seat maybe 4-8 people.
Not all theatres have all types of seating areas - it depends on the size of the venue.
Many West End theatres were built years ago and often have pillars, hand rails and other objects which can partially block your view of the stage.
Seats with a restricted view can be quite cheap, but you might not see everything happening on the stage.
When buying tickets, always check if your seats will have a 'restricted view'.
Bear in mind, though, that some theatres have seats quite a distance from the stage but which can offer a great view and at low prices.
Most West End shows start their runs with preview performances.
These might last for a few days or sometimes several weeks.
They are intended to allow the actors and stage staff to get used to the theatre and overcome any technical issues.
Prices for preview performances can often be a few pounds lower than for those after the show's press night (the show's 'opening night').
But the action might be stopped during previews if something goes wrong - that's quite normal but doesn't happen very often.
The box office
Most West End theatres have a 'box office' - a counter in the theatre which sells tickets.
Theatre box offices are usually open between 10 am and about 8 pm (or about 30 mins after the evening performance has begun).
If you can visit the theatre in person to buy tickets from the box office, you will not usually be charged a fee on top of the ticket price.
You can also telephone the box office - though you may be charged a fee for booking this way.
Our theatre listings include a map so you can find the theatre (and the box office), as well as the box office telephone number (if it's available).
Some theatres offer a limited number of tickets which you can only buy on the day of the performance you want to attend.
These are called 'day seats' or 'day tickets' and are sold on a 'first-come-first-served' basis.
So, check with the theatre or the show's web site about day seats.
Buying tickets on-line
This can be one of the most convenient ways to buy your tickets, especially if you're at work during the day, live outside London, or you're abroad and want to buy tickets before you arrive in the city.
All West End theatres now have an online booking system.
Convenience, though, comes at a price.
Normally, you will be charged a fee for each ticket you buy (in addition to the cost of the ticket), and some theatres charge an extra transaction fee as well.
Don't forget to check the fees you'll be charged before you book.
There are numerous specialist companies which sell tickets for London shows.
Many of these agents sell tickets via on-line systems.
To be sure that you are using a reliable agent, look for an agent who is a member of STAR (the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers).
STAR is a self-regulatory body and its members sign-up to its Code of Practice, which requires them to treat customers fairly and make all transactions clear and straight-forward.
If you're buying from a ticket agent's website, look for the STAR symbol which means it is a member.
Now the downside ... when buying tickets from agents, you may have to pay a booking fee which might be around 25% of the face value of the ticket.
And you may also have to pay a transaction fee on top of that.
The moral of the story is ... check prices and fees carefully before you buy from an agent.
ActDrop's ticket site
We've teamed-up with Encore Tickets to offer you tickets to all the West End shows.
We often have discounted prices for many of the most popular West End shows - check-out our site here.
Collecting your tickets
If you buy tickets online, or over the phone, you'll need to decide how to actually get them in your hands.
You may be able print them at home or have them sent to you in the post (that might incur a fee!).
You can also collect them from the box office when you arrive at the theatre for the show.
Be warned, though - leave at least 30 mins to collect your tickets before the show starts as there can be a lengthy queue at the theatre box office.
In the middle of Leicester Square, right in the heart of London's West End, is a small booth which has a clock on top of it ...
This is the TKTS booth which sells discounted tickets - up to half the normal price.
You can find out what's on offer by taking a peak at their website.
But to buy the tickets you're after, you'll have to visit the booth in person.
That's the downside, but worth the effort if you have time to pop in to town, or are staying nearby.
Here's the location of the TKTS booth ...
Off West End & Fringe theatres
Theatres in London outside the West End vary enormously in size and type.
Some Off West End venues are almost as big as theatres in the West End, and host large-scale productions.
Smaller Fringe theatres may only have 50 or so seats and are often located above or at the back of a pub.
But whatever the size of venue, you can experience really great shows in London's smaller theatres.
And there's a bonus ...
Fringe and Off West End ticket prices are often much cheaper than the West End variety - though it depends on the size of the theatre and the type of show you're going to see.
A typical ticket for a show at a small fringe venue may cost only £10 - £15, though bigger theatres can charge quite a lot more.
Fringe box offices
Off-West End theatres and some larger Fringe theatres have the same kind of box offices as West End theatres, which are open most of the day and have telephone lines for bookings.
Smaller theatres may not have a box office at all - or it may only be open for an hour before the show starts.
But you'll usually be able to buy tickets through the theatre's web site.
In our Fringe and Off-West End show listings, we give you a direct link to the theatre's ticket system, to make it easy for you - just click our 'Buy Tickets' button.
Pay what you can
Some smaller theatres have special nights during the week when you can 'pay what you can afford'.
For example, the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, offers this discount on Tuesday evenings.
Normally, theatres suggest an amount to pay - maybe £5 or thereabouts - but there are often no restrictions.
For young people
If you are 25 or younger, you may be able to get discounts at theatres or through certain organisations, for example...
Mousetrap Theatre Projects - discounted tickets for young people
National Theatre - discounted tickets for ages 16 to 25
Young Vic - tickets for £10 for under 25s and students
Many fringe theatres also offer discounts for students.
Schools also qualify for generous group discounts (see 'Group rates' below).
Many theatres have discounted tickets for those aged 60+ (the qualifying age might be 65 in some theatres).
To get the senior discount, you may need to buy tickets for a specific evening or for a matinee performance.
Check the theatre's website for discount details.
If you can rustle-up a group of 10 or more people to accompany you on a theatre visit, you'll probably qualify for a discounted rate.
The minimum size group is generally 10, and there are often extra discounts for groups of 30 or more.
School groups of 10+ generally get even bigger discounts and there's usually a free teacher ticket for every 10 students.
To make a booking, you usually need to call a special number - see the show's website for details.
For people with special needs
Many West End shows have special assisted performances such as:
- captioned performances
- audio-described performances
- BSL interpreted performances
- relaxed performances.
Check the show's website for information - our show listings also give details wherever possible.
The Society of London Theatre has a special Access Guide which gives details of assisted performances in London theatres.
Most West End theatres have special access booking lines for people with special needs.
So, if you want to book for a special performance, or even a standard performance, give the theatre's access line a call to book your tickets and to get help with any special requirements you may have.
Some theatres have special ticket prices for those with special needs, and sometimes provide a free ticket for a carer or companion.
Assistance dogs - most theatres welcome guide and assistance dogs and you can usually (but not always) take your dog into the auditorium with you.
Many theatres also provide a dog-sitting service, where your dog can be looked after (and probably spoilt rotten) by adoring staff in the manager's office.
Check with the box office about their policy when you book your tickets.