If you’re the designated ticket-booker in your theatre-going party, you know how stressful it can be to pick the right seats. How far back can you sit and still make out an actor’s facial expressions? Will you end up with neck cramp if you sit in row B? Just how restricted is that ‘restricted view’ seat on the side? Will you feel like you’re in another postcode if you can only afford the back row? What even is the difference between the stalls and circle? (Hint: stalls are always downstairs – the upstairs balconies in a theatre are called the circle or the mezzanine).
Over our many hours spent sitting, we’ve gathered plenty of intel on exactly where you want to be in our city’s most important theatres. Here are our tips, from the absolute best seats to the surprising bargains you can sometimes nab.
The best seats in Sydney theatres
The Star’s main theatre underwent a renovation in 2017 which made it feel a hell of a lot more intimate without sacrificing capacity. Basically, they moved the dress circle and grand circle closer to the stage by adding new rows to the front of each balcony and taking rows off the back. We’d still recommend sticking to the front half of the stalls – and because it’s a narrow auditorium you can be pretty far to the side and still have a decent view – but if you’re in the front of either circle you’ll have a great view and won’t have to bring binoculars. It’s also fine to sit at the front of the stalls for most shows as the stage isn’t super high and the orchestra pit gives you a tiny bit of breathing space. But beware: Hamilton doesn’t use the orchestra pit, so splashing out on front row seats for your favourite young niece or nephew might not be the best move.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Stalls, Row F, Seat 38.
The Capitol is a big theatre and if you happen to be at the back of the circle it can really feel grand. But there aren’t any major sightline issues in any of the seats. If you’re towards the front of the stalls, you might want to avoid seats right on the sides, but otherwise it’s a pretty well-designed auditorium. The floor doesn’t have the steepest rake though, so if you’re bringing kids along definitely grab a booster seat when offered one.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Stalls, Row B, Seat 17.
Here’s what you mightn’t realise about the State Theatre when you look at that seating plan: the dress circle might be the level above the mezzanine, but it’s actually closer to the stage. If we’ve got a choice between the two, we’d always pick the dress circle – the view of the stage is excellent (particularly from rows A to J) and if the show isn’t so great you can pass the time by looking at the gorgeously designed Art Deco roof above. Downstairs, most of the stalls are good, but it’s sometimes hard to see the top of the stage from the back few rows.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Dress Circle, Row A, Seat 29.
The Enmore has a pretty wide range of shows, but you’re better off downstairs no matter if it’s a seated stand-up gig or something with a bit stronger party vibes as the floor is often open as general admission standing. The dress circle is quite a long way back and it’s not a very steep rake, which means there can be sightline issues if you’ve got tall people sitting in front of you. At least if you’re in the standing section, you can try to move about to avoid them. The floor itself has got a gentle rake, which means you’ve got a good chance at actually seeing the action on stage if you’re downstairs.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Standing, general admission.
The best seats are, according to most people, smack-bang in the middle of the stalls. This is where you'll get the best sound quality if you're seeing an acoustic orchestra (although true aficionados will tell you you'd be better off just seeing a concert at City Recital Hall), and you should probably avoid the first five or so rows if you want to see more than the first violins and cellos. The Concert Hall is a pretty big venue, so although there's a perfectly clear view from the back of the circle you might feel a bit disconnected from what's happening on stage. On the other hand, you always feel pretty special sitting in one of the boxes, and if you've got no problem watching the side of somebody's head, the ones right on the side of the stage (boxes E, D, X and Y) get you up close to the action.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Platform Box D, Seat 6.
The Joan is small for an opera theatre, meaning it’s nice and intimate, and you won’t be squinting no matter where you are. The only seats with really dodgy sightlines are in the loge (the balconies either side of the stage) and we wouldn’t recommend booking seats in the boxes (the level above the loge) unless you’re only there for the aural experience. The front few rows of the stalls are generally not as expensive as the middle, which can be a mixed blessing: the stage is quite low and the view across the orchestra pit is spectacular, but if it’s an opera that uses surtitles you either won’t be able to see them or will be constantly craning your neck. But if you’re seeing a dance show or a show that’s entirely in English, the front row can work out to be a bargain.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Stalls, Row H, Seat 23.
The Drama Theatre is a weird space. Tucked away underneath the Concert Hall, it feels a little like a wind tunnel thanks to its low roof. But the auditorium goes back quite a long way – 20 rows to be exact – and you can feel like you’re watching the show through a viewfinder up the back. The best seats are from row P forward, and we’d recommend avoiding the very sides of the front few rows if you’re seeing a long show; the sightlines are usually fine, but you will have to turn your head or turn in your seat to watch the show.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Row F, Seat 22.
The Roslyn Packer is a thoughtfully designed theatre and only 15 years old. It’s fairly intimate with just 896 seats but if you’re going to see a show that seems small-scale – check the cast list for a hint as to how big the show will be – you probably don’t want to be at the very back of the dress circle. Everywhere in the stalls is fine – your optimal position is probably about row D to H – and the front row doesn’t feel too intense for most productions. But also beware that if you’re seeing a big classic with big actors, you could get spat on if they enunciate too enthusiastically. Although if you want Hugo Weaving to spit on you, we won’t judge.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Stalls, Row D, Seat 15.
The seats in the middle bay of Belvoir’s Upstairs Theatre always sell out first and are usually a little bit more expensive than others. But don’t be afraid of the seating banks on the side: Belvoir shows are built to play out from the stage in the middle of the auditorium, and the experience is just as good from any bay. There’s also something exciting about front row at Belvoir – the actors are right in your lap, but rarely in a way that feels intimidating (although there was once a production of Hamlet where Toby Schmitz kissed somebody in the front row). Although it’s a small theatre, you start to feel like you’re less involved from about row G back.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Row C, Seat 11.
If you’ve ever been to Griffin’s SBW Stables Theatre, you’re familiar with the rush that happens when the auditorium door opens. That’s because Griffin only has general admission seating and although it’s properly intimate (it holds just 105 audience members) not every seat is created equal. You’ll want to be near the door to make sure you don’t end up right at the back, but maybe hang back until about 30 people have gone in so you end up near the aisle – otherwise you can end up rammed up against a brick wall as people file in. It’s a pretty bold person who deliberately chooses to sit in the front row of Griffin – those actors are so ridiculously close you could trip them (but please don’t) – and we salute those brave souls.
The best seat we’ve sat in: Third row back, on an aisle.