Coronavirus Employees' Help
1 August 2021
MSE Update, Thu 20 May: Theatres across the UK are beginning to open their doors once again.
It's been heartening to see the live-streamed, recorded, audio and app-based shows that emerged to replace live performance during the various lockdowns. We've rounded up some of the best online theatre below.
If you had a ticket to a cancelled show, you will have received an email or phone call from the theatre to let you know the next steps, whether that's a refund, credit, a voucher to use on a future show or something else. If you still haven't heard anything, contact the theatre as soon as possible.
Regarding West End theatre shows, SOLT (Society of London Theatre) told us during the first lockdown, "There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience. If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly".
See our Coronavirus Financial Help & Rights guide for info on its financial implications in the UK, including sick pay rights, mortgage help, event cancellations and more.
With theatres closed during lockdown and hundreds of shows cancelled, lots of venues made recorded performances available to stream online for free for the foreseeable. This is a brilliant way to soak up a bit of culture from your living room without having to fork out for a ticket.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's company has set up a YouTube account called The Shows Must Go On! which releases a full-length musical every Friday. It's on hiatus until later in February, but once they start releasing shows again they'll be totally free and available for 48 hours, meaning you'll have the whole weekend to watch them. First up was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and on 9 October, to mark the show's birthday, it showed the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera from 2011, filmed at the stunning Royal Albert Hall.
London International Mime Festival has been running for 44 years. Although it wasn't able to run in 2021, it has made a chunk of its back catalogue free to stream. That includes dance, acrobatics, puppetry and all sorts of wonderful, experimental madness.
The Royal Opera House is offering streamed full-length ballet and opera productions on its Facebook page and YouTube channel. These are no longer free – tickets start from £2.45 per show.
The National Theatre was allowing free streams of shows on its YouTube channel for seven days each, beginning with the online premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors starring James Corden. Unfortunately this is now over, though it has now made the National Theatre Collection free to state-funded schools.
London's Southbank Centre has a programme of free live-streamed plays which can be watched via Zoom. Look for the 'FREE' tag. You'll need to book a ticket to reserve your slot.
The Bush Theatre's Monday Monologues comprises plays written and recorded during lockdown, making them a real snapshot of recent history. They're available to watch for free until May 2021.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical has been playing in the West End for over 1,000 performances, and every single one has been different, thanks to its troupe of quick-witted improvisers. Faced with an empty auditorium one night, they live-streamed a new show on Facebook. That show is still available to watch today and it might just be the cheerer-upper you need.
You can now watch Tony Award-scooping musical Hamilton on Disney+, the new streaming channel from Disney. The filmed stage performance stars the original Broadway cast, including creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.
Unfortunately the free Disney+ trial is no longer available; the service costs £5.99 per month or £59.99 for a year. But that's pennies compared to a top-price ticket to see Hamilton in the West End, which, before theatres closed, often ran into the hundreds of pounds.
See our guide for more about watching TV & movies online.
Exciting things are happening via app – immersive shows that 'take place' in your own home and really push the boundaries of what theatre can be.
Available on the Mercurious app, Swimming Home is another app-and-earphones show, but this one's set in your bathroom. The 35-minute piece is a meditation on our relationship with water, and requires the listener to wear a swimming costumer and goggles and to run a bath. Tickets are £5. See the trailer for Swimming Home.
Pioneering theatre company Darkfield launched a series of unique immersive audio shows, intended to be experienced from your home. The season has now ended but they're one to keep an eye. You might like to sign up to their emails to find out when the next season's due, and the to possibly score the occasional discount code. The shows require earphones, a smartphone and, depending on the show, some simple household props. Last season, two tickets cost £10 plus a service fee.
Bitter Pill Theatre runs an ongoing playwriting competition as part of The Painkiller Project. The winners are released as radio plays each fortnight, and you can listen to them free on The Painkiller Podcast.
Wireless Theatre Company is offering a free one-year subscription that gives you unlimited downloads of its entire catalogue of audio plays. Most aren't well-known works, but there are some Shakespeare plays, a series narrated by Brian Blessed and Jo Brand, and a play featuring Stephen Fry. A hidden gem, the 'binaural audio plays' section is optimised for earphone listening, with each ear receiving slightly different sound effects to create a feeling of immersion.
Theatre streaming site Scenesaver offers a catalogue of over 350 pre-recorded shows from across the world which you can watch from home, including kids and foreign-language shows. There's an emphasis on fringe and Off-West End theatre, so you can be sure of discovering some gems you hadn't heard of. You'll need to register to watch but it's totally free.
For Valentine's Day, Scenesaver has created printable tickets that you can fill in and give to your date before you settle onto the sofa for a night at the theatre.
American site BroadwayHD has made hundreds of Broadway show recordings available to stream on most devices. It usually costs about £6.54 a month ($9ish) but you can claim a seven-day free trial. You’ll need to enter payment details and create an account but as long as you cancel several days before the seven days are up, you won’t be charged for renewal and will still be able to take advantage of a full week of watching. When we tried it out, we found good quality streams of musical Kinky Boots, the play Salomé starring Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain, the ballet Swan Lake and the notorious Jerry Springer the Opera, plus family shows like The Wind in the Willows.
Its terms say that it, “makes no representation that the BroadwayHD service is appropriate or available for use outside of the U.S”, but we had no trouble using it on mobile and PC here in the UK.
Important: Don’t forget to cancel if you don’t want to be charged.
From here on, the theatre tips and tricks are geared towards live performance. With all theatres closed during the national lockdowns, these sadly aren't relevant now. But if you fancy brushing up your bargain-hunting skills or want to book something a little way down the line, this is the best place for it.
When booking tickets online, watch out for many sites' ridiculous booking fees. For example, we've seen Ticketmaster add an eye-watering £16.25 fee per £82.50 ticket, even if you elect to pick them up at the box office yourself. So before you book, follow these steps:
You want to make sure you don't pay over the odds, so check either the theatre's own or the show-specific site and see what tickets are going for on there. This'll give you a benchmark to compare against.
Warning: Sites that slap on massive fees can rank higher in search engine results than official ones, so always double-check you've reached the right place.
Decent sites to monitor for discounts include:
While these sites also sell full-price tickets, you can often grab a bargain. Though as always, before buying from a seller you don't recognise, check reviews on a site such as Trustpilot to make sure it's legit.
We cover all these below in more detail, but if any of the following grabs your attention straightaway, here are quick links to some of our top tips: cheap tickets for under-30s, £5 Shakespeare's Globe tickets, £10-£15 West End ticket lotteries, top secret 'free' ticket schemes and how to bag cheap seats by queuing on the day.
If you're happy to see whatever comes your way, consider signing up to 'free' ticket services – secretive organisations used to fill up shows that aren't selling well or need a full audience for a particular performance. Unfortunately for the rest of the UK, most seat-filling sites cover London only, but it can still be worth joining if you make occasional trips to the West End.
These tickets aren't actually free as you usually pay the company £2.50-£5 a ticket to cover admin costs, or in some cases an annual membership, but in general they're a lot cheaper than buying from the theatre itself. Popular shows sell out fast, and some have different levels of membership where the people who go the most get access to bigger shows first.
Many only accept new members during small windows a few times a year, so check back regularly if applications are currently closed – chances are they'll reopen at a later date.
Here are some of the more popular ones we've tried:
Make sure you don't brag about your cheap tickets when you're at the theatre, as all the schemes ask you to be discreet about them. Often you'll also be asked to leave a review of the show you've seen. For more on free ticket schemes, see MSE Jenny's blog.
As well as offering discounts if a show isn't selling out, some theatres and production companies have cheap ticket schemes for certain performances, or promise to offer a certain number of tickets for £10 or £15 each. Some hold back cheap tickets for the day of the performance, sold on a first-come, first-served basis online or at the box office (also known as 'rush' tickets).
How it works varies between theatres, but to give you an idea, here are some of the theatre-specific schemes we've checked out:
These are just some of the schemes available, so if there's a theatre you've got your eye on it's worth checking with it to see if it's got anything similar.
If you're happy to gamble with your theatregoing, you could try entering some of the many lotteries out there.
Usually this involves going to the specific theatre and putting your name in a ballot, or entering online or via an app. This gives you a chance to 'win' discounted tickets for a show, at typically £10-£35.
Manchester's Palace Theatre & Opera House runs a lottery for every performance of The Book of Mormon, in which 15 front-row tickets become available for £15 each. You'll need to visit the theatre's box office in person two and a half hours before curtain-up and add your name to a list. Two hours before the show starts, 15 winning names will be drawn.
Hamilton (West End, Broadway and various US cities) runs a dedicated lottery online and via its official app. Winners can buy up to two £10 tickets. Chances are slim – we've heard about people entering every day for years with no success, though a few lucky individuals have been successful multiple times.
Speaking of TodayTix, the app is a good place to visit for lotteries for various West End shows, such as front-row Everybody's Talking About Jamie tickets for £20. Learn more by visiting MSE Jenny's theatre lotteries blog.
Before hitting 'buy' on those cheap seats you've found, you probably want to make sure you can watch the entire show in comfort and won't be stuck behind a pillar or with your knees jammed into the seat in front.
If you're wondering whether a seat's worth its price tag, you can check what sort of view you'd have at many major theatres with SeatPlan (UK-wide) or Theatremonkey (London only). These are packed with detailed info on views, legroom and more – cheaper seats are often further from the stage, or have a restricted view, so these can be useful tools to check what sort of experience you might have before you buy.
SeatPlan now has a brand new section where you can find hidden gem seating – in other words, great seats for less than you'd expect. It draws on its huge resource of theatregoer reviews and photos to analyse seats in all the major theatres in London. See its page The best musicals for less to find out, for example, which The Lion King seats have earned five stars from reviewers but aren't quite in the premium block, so cost less than neighbouring seats.
When a new show starts, it'll have a preview period before it opens to the press to give the company a chance to play in front of an audience and make tweaks.
As these performances occur before a show officially opens, tickets are often cheaper too. West End shows have been known to have half-price previews and as an example London's Old Vic sells at least half of all seats for the first five previews of every production for £10.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre runs the Rep Preview Club which allows 16 to 30-year-olds to see previews for a fiver, while Chichester Festival Theatre usually runs a preview period of four performances that are cheaper, but prices vary according to show. Check upcoming productions on your local theatre's website to find out if the first few performances are marked as 'preview'.
Some theatres also make midweek performances cheaper, as these days are usually quieter than weekends, so if you can be flexible on dates, you could save a few quid.
If you buy tickets for seats high up in the theatre, where they're cheapest, you can often be upgraded to better seats if the show isn't selling.
Again it's a gamble, as busy shows mean you'll be left at the top (not good if you suffer from vertigo!), so it's not for everyone. But we employ this tactic a lot, always buying the cheap seats in the hope we'll get bumped up to better ones – and in big theatres at the less-oversubscribed shows it happens surprisingly often.
If you don't mind what you see, off-West End or fringe shows are usually cheaper, and you can find some real gems if you look hard enough. OffWestEnd, a website for independent theatres in London, lets you filter tickets by price bracket in £5 increments.
Look out for regular fringe theatre events throughout the year, such as Skipton Puppet Festival which descends on Yorkshire every other October, Northern Ireland's annual Outburst Queer Arts Festival which has previously offered 'pay what you can' if you're broke, or Brighton Fringe which attracts hundreds of thousands each year.
Some theatres offer 'pay what you can' performances, where the price is up to you to decide. They'll usually be on a specific date in a show's run, and will have limited availability so you may need to book quick.
Theatres we've seen doing this include:
One of the most famous theatres in London, the iconic Shakespeare's Globe also has one of the most attractive cheap ticket schemes.
If you're happy to stand and brave the elements completely uncovered then you can get one of the 700 £5 'Yard' tickets that are available for every performance.
Not only are these a bargain, you're often right in the middle of the action with actors moving through the crowd as they perform. The smaller Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Globe complex, offers £10 standing tickets for its productions as well.
These can be booked online, over the phone or at the box office.
Unemployed, carer, registered disabled or booking for a large group? There could be a concession rate for you.
There are also heaps of initiatives for helping young people (under 26 in most cases) afford theatre tickets – so many that we've given this topic its own section below.
Here are some of the ways you might qualify for a concession rate:
Lots of theatres offer discounts for disabled people, so if you or your theatregoing buddy has a disability, it's always worth checking with the theatre before booking – you can usually get 50% discounts or helpful extras such as a free ticket for your carer. Most theatres should be able to accommodate any access requirements, and productions often have dedicated captioned, signed or relaxed performances.
See our 31 MoneySaving tips for disabled people for more suggestions.
Some theatres will try to entice nearby residents with cheap ticket offers. The Young Vic and the Almeida in London are known for offering a special discount for those who live in the neighbourhood, for example. Check your local theatre website or booking line before you buy.
There are representation initiatives that help make theatre accessible to demographics who might be less able, less inclined or less encouraged to attend theatre. A great example is Black Ticket Project, which fundraises to supply young black people with free or discounted theatre tickets. The company is based in London but has worked in Bristol, Sheffield and Manchester and aims to continue expanding its reach.
Many theatres offer discounts for groups of eight to 10 people or more. You should find information about this on the theatre's official website. Group discounts might not always be possible when booking online – instead many theatres require you to call up to book.
It varies from theatre to theatre, but in some cases, those out of work are entitled to a concession on their ticket. This is the case for many of the main West End theatres, for instance. Check your local theatre's website or phone to find out if this applies.
If you're under 26 (or under 30 at some theatres), you can nab cheap tickets through a plethora of schemes offering tickets to shows for rock-bottom prices.
Be ready to show your ID when you pick up the tickets – most schemes mention in their terms that ID is required, even if it isn't always enforced.
Off-West End and fringe theatres are much more likely to run a student discount scheme than the big West End venues. It's always worth asking at your local theatre if it does a deal for students or young people. Here are some of the cheap tickets available:
The South Bank venue offers £7.50 tickets to all of its productions for anyone aged 16 to 25 through its Entry Pass scheme, which is free to join. With three separate theatre spaces, often with multiple shows in each, there's always something good to see, and the Entry Pass seats tend to be right at the front with great views of the stage.
On weekday evenings, students and those under 26 can claim a theatre ticket for £7 at the Royal Exchange, which is an up to 80% saving on standard prices. There are hundreds of these concession tickets available for every theatre performance and selected studio performances.
If the West End's more your thing, you can join education charity Mousetrap Theatre Projects which offers £5 tickets for various shows to 15 to 18-year-olds in state education, £10 tickets for 19 to 23-year-olds and full-time drama students, and £15-£20 tickets for 24 to 29-year-olds.
For those who like a bit of the Bard, 16 to 25-year-olds can see the Royal Shakespeare Company's shows in Stratford-upon-Avon and London for a fiver, or buy a 'Shakespeare Pass' to get five shows for £20. This is a great way of seeing West End musical Matilda, which is an RSC show, for £5. But these tickets are only available in person at the box office on the day, so you may end up queueing for a while.
If aged 16 to 30 you could join Masterclass, another education charity based in the West End's Theatre Royal Haymarket, which has regular London ticket offers, as well as workshops and apprenticeships.
A free membership scheme at Belfast's The MAC known as '16=24' means that independent theatregoing youngsters can bag £5 tickets to selected shows. You'll need to fill in an online form and wait for your membership request to be approved (can take up to seven days) to receive a unique promo code.
For all of the offers mentioned above, you generally need to be organised and buy tickets as soon as they go on sale as the schemes are popular and there are limited numbers available for each show.
The misleadingly named Kids Week runs throughout the month of August every year. With every full-paying adult, a child can go completely free to about 30-40 varied top West End shows. Booking opens in June and last year there were 150,000+ tickets up for grabs, with 100,000 snapped up by midnight of day one.
With West End prices hardly the easiest on the wallet, and there usually being no difference between a kid's and an adult's ticket, Kids Week could save you anywhere between £15 and £80 depending on what you see.
A growing trend is screenings of theatrical productions, live or in 'encore' showings, at cinemas across the country.
These are typically cheaper than going to the theatre itself, and give you a close-up view of the action. Plus, if you don't live near the theatre you'll save on travel and accommodation if you go to your local picture house instead of trekking halfway across the country.
Past showings include Present Laughter which starred Andrew Scott, Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag and the Bridge Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
And if that sounds like too much effort, there are occasionally even ways to watch live-streamed plays from the comfort of your own living room. The play The Vote, starring Mark Gatiss, was broadcast live on More4 on the night of the 2015 general election.
Many shows that are destined for the West End tour the UK before arriving in London. These performances are often cheaper than they would be in the West End, with the added bonus that if you don't live in London you don't have to pay for travel and hotels on top.
There are also lots of West End shows that go out on tour across the UK after the London run finishes, or even while the West End production is still running. Shows that are currently touring include The Book of Mormon, Les Misérables and The Mousetrap.
Go to Edinburgh in August and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of theatre, comedy, music and more on offer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
With thousands of shows to choose from and performances at all hours of the day and night, it can be easy to spend a fortune, so here are our top tips to cut your Edinburgh Fringe ticket costs:
Another cheaper option offered by many theatres is 'day seats'. These are tickets that theatres hold to be sold on the morning of the performance, which typically range from £5-£35 each.
Often seats are on the front row of the stalls or the best available, and you can usually get two tickets per person. You might have to pay in cash so it's best to phone the box office before you go to check – it'll also often have a good idea of the sort of times people start queueing from so you know when to get there.
Numbers are limited, with many shows having about 20 or fewer available, and if it's a popular show you may have to queue as early as 7am (box offices largely open at 10am Monday-Saturday and noon on Sundays so wrap up warm).
The TodayTix app also runs a lot of West End theatre 'rush' schemes – these are like day seats but you don't have to queue in person at the theatre. Instead, tickets become available in the app at 10am for that day's performance(s).
Tickets for popular shows sell out in seconds, so you'll need speedy fingers to nab 'em – though a trick if you miss out at first is to wait 10 minutes in case people don't buy the tickets they add to their baskets (as you only have this long to buy them).
For a decent list of current West End shows' day seat policies, see Theatremonkey's day seat finder.
If you're not shy about speaking your mind and you're able to string a decent enough sentence together, you might like to try theatre reviewing. There are lots of websites out there with volunteer writers on their books. Those writers are sent to press nights for free in return for a review of the show. Although most review sites don't pay, you could save hundreds in theatre tickets each month if you're a regular theatregoer.
If you're heading to New York and want a theatre trip, top-price tickets can be $100s. But don't despair, there are plenty of ways to hunt out cheap tickets for Broadway shows, including lotteries and day seats.
For full info see our New York On A Budget guide.
It's becoming less common, but hang around a theatre with a hot show on and you may well see someone selling tickets in hushed tones outside the front, often at huge markups. It goes without saying that it's a bad idea to buy tickets from these people as you could end up paying over the odds for seats, or in the worst case scenario be without any valid tickets at all.
Another (more common) thing to avoid is non-authorised online ticket sellers. These often have huge booking fees and can charge much more than the face value of tickets.
If you want to buy tickets, in person or online, look for the STAR symbol. This shows that the seller is a member of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers and adheres to its code of practice, meaning you're better protected.
If you're in central London and want to head to a ticket booth, TKTS in Leicester Square is the best. It's run by the not-for-profit Society of London Theatre, and tends to have the lowest booking fee of any of the booths in the West End. The tickets are normally half price with a £3 booking fee, though a £1 booking fee is added if you pay full price for a show.
While ticket touting (reselling tickets) isn't actually illegal, there are laws in place to protect buyers of secondary tickets. Ticket resellers must disclose the original price of the ticket and the nature of any connections they have with the event organiser or selling platform, among other things. You are entitled to this information, and if it isn't forthcoming, the ticket reseller could be selling counterfeits, or simply not observing these laws while legally reselling.
Every year, Official London Theatre's New Year sale begins in December and takes us into the following year. Top West End tickets are available for £10, £20, £30 or £40.
In 2018, for example, there were 100,000 tickets available at the sale's start, spread across shows such as Les Misérables, Matilda and Swan Lake.
A slightly riskier way to bag a cheap ticket, this, as you could end up not seeing the show at all, but a good way to get in for rock-bottom prices is to go to the box office an hour or less before the show is due to start.
If there are unsold seats you can often get cut-price tickets as the theatre tries to fill any remaining gaps. Some theatres even have special last-minute offers in place – London’s Royal Court offers 10p standing tickets one hour before each performance in its Jerwood Downstairs space. Keep in mind that a show might last more than two hours with or without an interval, so with this one you'd need to be comfortable remaining on your feet for the duration.
Last-minute bargains can be snagged online too. Although it's not advertised, many booking sites run dynamic pricing, which means tickets for a show tonight may be cheaper than the same seats on the same day of the week later in the month, since there's a more urgent need for theatres to fill those seats.
To see if we could find evidence of dynamic pricing in action, we compared tickets to Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre for the same night, a Monday, against future Monday nights. We found that seats C25 and C26 in the stalls cost £67.50 for that night's performance, but £87.50 for all future Monday night performances.
If you've a show in mind but can't find a discount and the venue's close by, the best plan of action is to go directly to the box office.
This'll bypass most fees, including booking or postage, though be aware that many tickets include a 'restoration levy' in the price which goes towards the upkeep of the theatre – this'll be charged regardless of how you book.
What's more, be nice to the ticket office staff and you could even bag an upgrade. It goes without saying that you should always be polite when buying tickets (or indeed anything), but turning on some extra charm could even get you a bargain.
While box office staff can't give you freebies or massive discounts, they are sometimes able to pull some strings and give you a 'band A' seat at a 'band C' price, for example. Some ticket sellers have been known to throw in a couple of free drinks after having a good natter, so you never know what you could get by being nice.
If you're a regular theatregoer it's definitely worth joining as you'll gradually accrue vouchers and can then spend them all at once if you'd like to. Sign up for free and you can earn 50 points for each photo you upload of the view from a seat.
Once you've earned 1,000 points, SeatPlan will send you a £10 theatre token, which can be spent at theatres across the UK – so, to get £10 you'll need to upload 20 pictures (which is 20 theatre visits). Or you can opt for an Encore voucher for 750 points (that's 15 photos) instead.
So you've made it to the theatre with your bargain ticket, and you're feeling a bit peckish or thirsty. Go to the kiosks and bars in venues themselves and you'll often find yourself paying through the nose for food and drink.
Make sure you don't spend the money you've saved booking tickets on refreshments by preparing in advance – pop to a supermarket on the way to the theatre and pick up some bargain sweets or soft drinks. Sadly we haven't found a way to keep ice cream from melting so if only that'll do for your interval treat, hope there's a newsagent nearby (or shell out at the venue on a fancy tub).
If you want to know who's in the show but can't face spending £5, £10 or even more on a programme, you can often find out info about the show from the official website, or dedicated theatre sites such as WhatsOnStage and Official London Theatre (if you're in the capital).
Alternatively, some venues have handy takeaway cast lists in the foyer for free. Ask staff if you can't see any – they may be available on request.
If you've got a West End show coming up, the Twitter account WestEnd Understudies is a nifty tool for finding out if that performance is subject to any cast changes.
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