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Update: the West End’s £460 theatre ticket is no more after a massive backlash

‘Cock’ just got a whole lot cheaper

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

UPDATE: less than 48 hours after the backlash against the top ‘Cock’ top prices began, the tickets in question have been slashed in price, from £400 plus booking fee to £175 plus booking fee, thus over halving the cost and bringing them more in line with the industry standard. The producers have made it known that they will not be commenting on this, but the results speak for themselves: they got greedy, they were called out, and they tacitly acknowledged that £400-plus tickets are not in fact currently acceptable in London theatres. If it’s difficult to exactly call a result that ends with the tickets still being basically unaffordable to normal people a triumph for the little guy, it does feel like a triumph of basic principles. Go people power!

West End theatre prices have been creeping up for a long time: ten years ago tickets costing north of £100 were viewed as a novelty; now it barely raises an eyebrow that the likes of ‘Les Mis’ or ‘The Lion King’ will charge more than £200 for their priciest seats.

Why haven’t we all rioted? A combination of things, but primarily there’s the fact that West End pricing is dynamic: that is to say the very top prices are only triggered when shows are very close to selling out, and the shows are pretty surreptitious about the fact they charge these rates. As a rule, the West End has got pricier, but the average ticket price remains well away from the top rates (£52.17 the last time it was surveyed!) and most shows have tickets starting from around £15. Throw in the fact that subsidised theatres – that is to say, ones that receive government funding, like the National – charge far less, and London isn’t as a whole even remotely as expensive a city to see theatre in as New York, or really any major American city.

But that’s the average. Last year there was a stink on social media about the fact that the West End revival of the musical ‘Cabaret’ was charging £325 for its top ticket: outrageous, yes, but as well as seeing Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in the flesh, you did get an actual tasting menu with it.

Maybe we’re just being progressively gaslit, because that now seems relatively reasonable compared to the top price currently being charged by the West End revival of Mike Bartlett’s ‘Cock’. As usual, these prices are rarely formally advertised as the top price, but things once again kicked off on social media after a Twitter user clocked what the current top price for ‘Cock’ is.

As it turns out the top price is £400, which comes with a £60 booking fee if you book via the same agent as the above tweeter, meaning it’s actually £460, for which you get nothing but a ticket to see this relatively short play. Not only that, but ‘Cock’ lost its biggest-name cast member Taron Egerton some time ago: this change has been well communicated, and it still retains its leading man in Jonathan Bailey (‘Bridgerton’), but it’s at least notable that what may very well be the most expensive standard London theatre ticket ever is for a show that’s less star-studded than originally advertised.

Why is ‘Cock’ so expensive? The literal answer is that it’s sold very well, it’s a limited run, in a very small theatre, and dynamic pricing has kicked in for the handful of tickets left over. There is a sort of logic in the industry that the strategic deployment of very pricey tickets combats touting, by effectively charging so much that it puts touts off getting involved (ie if you’re a scalper, are you really going to drop £920 on a pair of ‘Cock’ tickets in the hope you can shift them for even more, if at all?).

Nonetheless, all this doesn’t really explain why Cock tickets are so expensive. Discounting lavish bolt-ons like the ‘Cabaret’ tasting menu, the final dynamic price of most big West End shows comes out at around £225-£250, in many cases without a booking fee: extremely expensive, but undeniably not £460. It’s also worth stressing that these are almost always musicals, which have large casts and orchestras. ‘Cock’ has a cast of four (plus understudies) – the far more acclaimed ‘Jerusalem’ (which has a much bigger cast) hasn’t done dynamic pricing at all, and has regular small releases of cheap online tickets on a weekly basis.

When contacted, the show’s producers pointed to the fact that the vast majority of tickets had been sold at a much cheaper rate. A spokesperson for the production said: ‘Since the production went on sale last year, 15 percent of all tickets sold have been at £20. There is a daily lottery for every performance where more tickets are also priced at £20. As the show nears the end of its run, the remaining premium ticket seats are based on supply and demand.’

Some true enough points. It’s also worth saying that closer inspection would reveal that the £60 seems to be an addition from the big-name ticketing agent: if you go via the official theatre site the tickets are exactly the same price but the booking fee is a flat £3.25. Still, ultimately it’s difficult to conclude anything other than ‘Cock’ producers have set the top price at £400 because they want to see if they can get away with being the first to sell tickets at that price. The odds strongly are that they won’t, or only a couple, and the rest will go unsold or go at a much cheaper returns rate. But clearly there is a hope that they’ll get away with it. 

It’s worth stating very clearly: even if you can somehow afford it, don’t pay £460 for any theatre ticket – it’ll just encourage them. It’s completely out of whack with even the ballpark of what a top theatre ticket should cost, and frankly there are equally good shows you could see and have literally hundreds of pounds left over to spend on rich-guy stuff. We’re never going to stop the upward price creep of theatre tickets. But £460 in 2022 is not something we need to tolerate or encourage.

‘Cock’ is at the Ambassadors Theatre until Jun 4.

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