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Theatre tickets: who can afford them in 2024?

The price for the most expensive tickets for plays in the West End has reached £200, according to an annual survey by The Stage – the average top-priced West End ticket was £154.56, compared with £141.37 in 2023.

For now, a quick refresher. A YouGov poll in March found that the most common reason for people to not visit the theatre was the cost of tickets.

Yup, three plays in London – including Romeo and Juliet starring Tom Holland – are charging more than £200 for their most expensive seat. And with top prices for plays up 50% on average, they are fast approaching the same level as musicals.

But how is that revenue being distributed?

Elsewhere, the average cheapest West End ticket cost £24.58, a 3.4% decrease compared with last year. But these cheap seats are often cramped, restricted and depressing viewing.

News that deserved neither fanfare nor any spoiler alert because we’ve all seen what has been going on with rip off premium West End prices. At a basic level I think most of us want transparency. I’d also love to see some of these profit making machines – that invest nothing in UK culture – doing more for hard-pressed communities surrounding their buildings and freelancers. And so say all of us.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that no sooner had I read this news Society of London Theatre (SOLT) board member and producer Patrick Gracey had written a tetchy piece for The Stage stating that anyone who used their platform ‘to misattribute exclusivity do a disservice to both the sector and to the audiences they claim to champion by perpetuating myths and misconceptions’. Hmm.

Real life is more complicated than that, as is real theatreland. I sometimes wonder if I am in the minority of people who want theatre to break out of the confines of middle class entertainment. To reflect the entire country. And reflect the complex changes that are happening; most people don’t have much disposable income these days.

Anyhow. Gracey went on to enlighten us that staging a play often exceeds £1 million, with weekly operating  costs between £120,000 and £200,000. Musicals can require an initial investment of £3 million to £10 million, and weekly costs of £300,000 to £400,000.

The fewer people that speak out about elitist ticket prices, the more unbearably self-important and pleased with itself the West End becomes.

This week, producers of musical Operation Mincemeat, winner of 2024 Best New Musical at the Olivier Awards, decided to unveil new flat prices of £89.50 at multiple performances. 

For someone on an average full-time national salary, which in 2024 is £34,963, that trip for themselves and a partner to see Operation Mincemeat would represent around one quarter of their weekly income.

Frankly, this seems like a short-sighted kick in the teeth for young loyal fans who got the fringe show where it is today. Operation Mincemeat is now beyond the reach of all but the affluent. A total fiasco.

The paying audience enters as an individual but becomes part of a unique communal event, a sort of tangled community. But look, the future will be bleak for drama if the young and the low-paid are excluded from that mix. 

By way of illustration in as even-handed a way as possible, a recent survey by Norwich Theatre showed that one in four British people have never attended a theatrical performance.

And 24% of 2,000 people surveyed had never been to see a show at the theatre, however 55% of respondents said that lower ticket prices would encourage their attendance. The research also found that those from London are almost twice as likely to attend the theatre every two to three months (12%) than those in the West Midlands (5%), Scotland (7%) or Wales (6%). 

Theatre is where we can and should all be able to ponder the past and imagine the future.

So I end this blog with a challenge: if any readers are able to get to the bottom of why West End Landlords such as Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber — whose wealth vastly increased since 2023, according to the recent Sunday Times Rich List — sanction these ticket prices without impunity, then I urge them to write in.