1. The Royal Court’s 10p standing tickets
The single best-value theatre ticket in all of London is the Royal Court’s outlandishly cheap 10p standing ticket (kudos to them that it’s not quite free). They’re for performances in the bigger downstairs theatre only and may not always be available, but when they are, they go on sale one hour before showtime. Also excellent value are Monday tickets for both Court theatres. They cost £12 each and only go on sale online at 9am on the morning of the performance.
2. The Globe’s £5 standing tickets
The Globe’s famous ‘groundling’ – ie standing in the pit – tickets have remained at £5 a pop ever since the replica Elizabethan theatre opened 20 years ago. Where standing tickets at other theatres shove you to the back, here you’re front, centre and often heavily interacted with. Not only a bargain, but a genuinely classic London experience that you should do at least once.
3. The Donmar’s £7.50 standing tickets
The boutiquey Covent Garden theatre is renowned for its ability to bag big-name talent, and as such virtually everything sells out. But there are standing tickets released every day at 10am – in person and online – that’ll get you plenty of change from a tenner and a decent view.
4. Youth schemes
If you’re under 25, London’s subsidised theatres will basically do everything but physically pay you to attend. If you are blessed with any sort of youth, always, always check the youth schemes before buying a ticket. Some of the best in town include the Donmar’s ‘Young + Free’– which is genuinely free – and the National Theatre’s Entry Pass, a free membership scheme that allows 16 to 25-year-olds to buy £7.50 tickets to all NT productions.
A couple of London’s fringe theatres – notably Dalston’s Arcola and Battersea’s Theatre 503 – offer pay-what-you-can schemes on certain days of the week. The Arcola helpfully states that the average donation is about £5.
6. Day seats
Virtually every major theatre in London will have a limited number of good stalls tickets that will only go on sale in person when the box office opens that morning. Those that don’t – such as ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ – will operate some sort of alternative online scheme. These are rarely insanely cheap, but almost always represent a significant bargain: expect to pay about £20 for a West End show.
There is very little free theatre around, for the simple reason that even cheap plays are expensive to rehearse and stage. The summer is the best time for it, though: West End Live (June), Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (June/July), the NT’s River Stages festival (August), and the annual free outdoor show at The Scoop (August, this year's is ‘The Odyssey’) are the main ones.
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