Many people see a trip to the theatre as a luxury, a treat or simply unaffordable. For me though, visiting the theatre is a weekly activity. I love it (possibly too much…) I am lucky enough to work in central London so I have a wealth of places to choose from but I’m also very good at getting cheap tickets. On average I probably pay around £10 for tickets (that’s cheaper than a bottle of wine at most London bars or even a trip to the cinema) so I’m going to share my tricks of the trade so you too can enjoy the joys of the theatre whatever your budget!
One of my favourite places to go is the National Theatre on London’s Southbank. It’s a grade II listed, brutalist building nestled amongst the riverside restaurants, Southbank Centre and a skatepark. The National hosts up to 30 productions a year on either of its four stages, which range from Shakespeare to newly commissioned work. Everything I have seen at the National has been amazing and I often find it quite refreshing to go and see some ‘real theatre’ rather than the usual West End musical production (don’t get me wrong these are also fabulous, just different). It is renowned for having excellent sets, wonderful costumes and supberb actors (James Cordon, Ralph Fiennes and Andrew Garfield have all taken to the stage). The National also, quite rightly, makes an effort to price its tickets as affordably as they can to enable everyone to visit – great news for a bargain hunter like me!
So how do I get these cheap tickets I hear you ask?
- Travelex sponsors a couple of productions in the Olivier and/or Lyttelton Theatres over the summer with hundreds of tickets for each performance at £15. These can get snapped up quite quickly for popular productions but I’ve also seen them available a couple of days before so it’s always worth checking.
- American Express cardholders get priority access to some tickets, meaning customers will get first dibs on the cheaper tickets. Be careful if borrowing someone’s card for access to these though as I believe you need to show the card to collect the tickets.
- Under 18s get half price tickets. Easy but always worth knowing.
- This is my favourite, 16-25 year olds can register for the Entry Pass scheme. It is free to apply but you will need to wait for your membership to be approved before you can use. THIS SCHEME IS AWESOME! It allows you access to £5 tickets to ALL performances and you can take a mate (who is also under 25 – and yes they DO check IDs) for £7.50. Tickets to each performance are limited and they do sell out quickly but it’s always worth checking back regularly as new tickets are released or people return them. When I was 25 I would buy tickets to the entire season without even reading the synopsis and, minus a very, very long three hours at Our Country’s Good, it was brilliant.
- Heard of Friday Rush? At 1pm on Friday afternoons a number of £20 tickets for shows in all the theatres at the National are released for the following week’s performances. This is a great way to get last minute tickets, cheaper tickets and tickets to SOLD OUT shows! As it’s a bit of a case of ‘fastest finger first’ I have a reminder in my calendar at work which pops up 15 mins before so I don’t forget! (I should mention I work in central London too, so being able to nip down to a theatre at lunchtime is obviously very handy).
- Day tickets are also sold at the National from 9.30 am Monday – Saturday and from 12pm on Sundays. As the theatre does not run performances every night it’s worth checking before you set up camp. Day tickets are £15 each and are only sold in person and are limited to two tickets per person. For popular shows the queue can start quite early in the morning.
- Once all the day tickets and returns and any other previously unsold tickets have been sold, the National also releases £5 standing tickets in the Olivier and Lyttelton Theatres. These can be purchased over the phone or in person and are limited to two tickets per person. I would think carefully before purchasing standing tickets as standing for two and a half hours doesn’t really appeal to me but there are certain shows (and actors) I would suffer through to see…
- Not in London? The National Theatre also runs a programme of Live Broadcasts across the country so you can still catch the latest shows at your local cinema. Many of the productions also tour the UK (including War Horse and One Man, Two Guvnors) and some transfer to do runs in the West End (Great Britain and the upcoming People, Places and Things – a must-see!)
- Even if you’re not into theatre, the National is still a great place to visit. There has been many a wet afternoon when I’ve had some time to kill that I’ve sheltered there and taken advantage of the ample seating space and free wifi. There is also a lovely terrace with views across London, regular exhibitions (which aren’t too big) and the bar sells my favourite Sipsmiths Gin.