Notes on News: Is the West End too expensive?

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The creator of Sherlock, Mark Gatiss thinks the West End can feel like an “exclusive club for rich white people” due to the price of tickets.

He won an Olivier Award for his role in Three Days in the Country this year, and said that audiences can be put off if the price is high but the show isn’t enjoyable, and that it’s a risk to pay a lot. People will go to things they know they’ll enjoy, but not take a risk on a show they’ve never heard of with the West End prices the way they are.

Surely this just brings up the question of why the West End is seemingly touted as the best place for theatre? There are so many smaller theatres across the country, like Southampton’s own Mayflower Theatre, that tour the big shows at lower prices. They even have West End shows at times, such as Billy Elliott which is touring in 2017.

Gatiss certainly isn’t anti-theatre, however. He has shown praise for theatres running cheap ticket schemes, like the National Theatre’s £15 tickets and the Donmar Warehouse who gave free tickets to under-25’s. For every performance of Jerusalem, a play by Jez Butterworth which drew huge crowds to The Apollo in 2010, 20 day seats were sold at £10 each. And there are always tickets for concessions and students. If you’re around London during the day there are countless ticket stalls in Leicester Square selling cheaper theatre tickets.

The Sherlock creator is not alone in voicing his displeasure towards the pricing system. Mark Rylance and Juliet Stevenson have also complained about the price of tickets – according to the Society of London Theatre, the average cost to see a West End show in 2015 was £42.99.

I agree with Gatiss that to spend an average of that, on top of drinks and food and programmes and everything else, to not have a good night at the end of it will put people off of the theatre – which will only serve to drive prices up higher!

While I appreciate not everything will be enjoyed by everyone, high prices will surely stop people from trying new shows and maybe even from going to the theatre at all. It’s not like everyone can afford to spend that much on going regularly, so it’s no wonder that some cinemas show theatre performances, ballets and operas on their screens at reduced prices.

That said, maybe the price of shows isn’t too expensive. Productions can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to put on, often only run for a few weeks or months, and ideally need to make a profit. And theatres are consistently full and sold out – look at how quickly tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were sold. Admittedly you could say that’s just because it’s Harry Potter, but then you also have shows like Les Miserables which has been at the Queen’s Theatre for over 30 years and is still evidently selling enough tickets for it to be worth running. London is full of tourism, and thousands of people walk through the West End every day – what do you do when on holiday in London? You see a West End show, like you’d see a Broadway show in New York, and like it or not, you have to be prepared to pay the price of it.

And there are still ways of seeing West End theatre on the cheap. I spent £20 on seats right at the back of The Cambridge Theatre, London to see Matilda. Sure, I had to lean forward a little at times but for the most part, I could see and hear everything absolutely fine. Perhaps we need to accept that you can see great shows outside the West End, and still go to a great theatre.

There’s no incentive for people to risk seeing something new at the current costs of shows, and it’s positive that there are schemes helping to make theatre accessible for everyone. Hopefully this too can happen in the West End, and more people can experience the glory and wonder of the London theatres.

Check out Gatiss discussing his role in Three Days in the Country below:

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Third year PAIR student and live editor. Also the Wessex Scene's Head of Events. Fan of cats, gigs and a tea lover - find me rambling about politics and cats @_Carly_May on Twitter.

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