In which the Whingers are bewildered by the economics of theatre

Monday 1 December 2008

So VAT on theatre tickets goes down today and in some cases the reduction is being passed on to the public. Mark Shenton reports that shows such as Mamma Mia!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Sound of Music will be dropping their prices. To give you an example of the scale of this, here’s what it means for Grease:

Box office prices, previously scaled from £20 to £55, will now be re-priced from £19.50 to £53.50, representing savings of between 50p and £1.50 per ticket. The middle range of prices from £30-£45 will each see the prices reduced by £1.

So that should pack them in. Far better to take one’s chances on TKTS or or any of the myriad offers available.

But Andrew is nothing if not penny-pinching and he has an argument – refuted by so-called tax “experts” – that the rate of VAT should be determined by the date on which the service is delivered and so is hoping to save pounds by insisting on a VAT refund on all tickets already purchased. He has had some business cards printed with “tax expert” on them in the hope of intimidating box office staff into giving in.

But frankly these kinds of savings are just not interesting. The Whingers’ fallback for getting to see shows which stubbornly refuse to be affordable is to purchase a group booking and then invite some makeweights their closest friends to join them but this avenue – like Phil’s own street since he moved in – is becoming less and less attractive.

For example, the days of cheap seats at Old Vic seem to have passed. Last year the Whingers booked a group for Speed-The-Plow , getting £45 tickets for just £25. By contrast their group booking for their next (and at this rate possibly last) visit to Mr Spacey’s theatre to see Complicit save them only £10 off the £46 top price seats. Hardly worth the hassle. So instead of selling 10 seats per Whinger outing, the Old Vic will in future sell only 2 seats or possibly 0 seats if Phil gets into one of his moods about it.

There are apparently no group discounts at all for Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Honestly if the theatres wanted to curb people’s spending they really couldn’t do a better job.

Meanwhile Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is going all out to annoy people with “Premium Seats” at £85 – an interesting departure in the current economic crisis. When Phil was at the box office a few weeks ago someone in front of him was asking what he would get for his money. Came the reply, “well, we’re not exactly sure yet. You might get a programme”. Even Young Frankenstein producer Robert F.X. Sillerman has acknowledged that that show’s notorious $450 premium seating was a mistake. If showman Mel Brooks can’t get people to shell out (it’s closing) it’s difficult to see how Jason Donovan in a wig is going to pack them in.

Meanwhile, at the “desperate” end of the scale, there was a very fractious debate between Imagine This producer Beth Trachtenberg and Norman Lebrecht of the Evening Standard (well worth listening to if only to wonder at Mr Lebrecht’s astonishing arrogance) which ended up with Trachtenberg offering 800 free tickets to listeners for that evening’s performance. Now that’s showmanship.

6 Responses to “In which the Whingers are bewildered by the economics of theatre”

  1. Chris Poppe Says:

    I’m old enough (: to remember the increase in VAT in 1979 which was blamed for a drastic reduction in the number of theatre tickets bought that summer. I think its most notorious casualty was the marvellous Flowers for Algernon with Michael Crawford which only managed about 6 weeks in Shaftesbury Avenue. However that was a hike of about 7% if I remember rightly – much more substantial than this 2.5%.

    Great blog, btw!!

  2. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Good point about how making the West End totally unaffordable will save most people a lot of unnecessary expense. I’ve adopted this policy for many years and it’s allowed me to purchase several very expensive properties and paintings (for the nation, of course). For my impending musical Stuff This I have decided to charge punters ONLY what they can afford: to facilitate this punters only need to bring along their most recent bank statement/savings book for verification by our friendly front-of-house team.

  3. Lavretsky Says:

    It’s one thing to punish the Old Vic by not block-buying tickets but I don’t know what the Young Vic did to deserve this.

  4. Ooops. Corrected. Thanks Lavretsky.

    Don’t know why they had to give it such a confusing name in the first place.

    The first thing I’m going to do when I’m rich is open a New Novello round the corner from the Novello and an Other National Theatre round the corner from the National. You get the idea.

  5. Lavretsky Says:


    Just after I wrote it I thought you might accuse me of belonging to the publicity department of the Young Vic.

    I am not. Honestly.

    (If we keep on like this we will have destroyed the thread of your original penetrating thoughts on VAT which would be regrettable.)

  6. Good gravy, that chap Lebrecht is up himself. To stand in judgement over a show when youve attended 15 – 30 minutes (he contradicts himself over the actual timing) and viewed the showreel is beyond belief, and reminds me of the Joyce Grenfell sketch in which the wife of the Vice-Chancellor of a university writes a book, and is then sent a journalist to interview her who hasnt read it “Well, yes, of course, Mr. Wimble, it is so difficult to find time to read everything one wants to, but I had thought, perhaps, that you might have read my book before coming”.

    Of course, what the Whingers (and myself, natch) do is foist our impressions of shows on our unsuspecting readers and try and alter their views, but at least we do actually wait until the final curtain comes down before we put fingers to keyboard (apart from my review of the Wizard of Oz at the Festival Hall, which I started writing about five minutes after curtain up).

    And anyway, who wants to go see a pair of clapped out old Luvvies maundering on about some Johnny who never has the decency to show up? Not me indeed. Probably no group discounts = “We desperately need to make up the money we lost on Marguerite/Girl in a pearl ear-ring/Treasure Island” as the shareholders are getting antsy”

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