We’ve both been into theatre for years and years, even before moving to Wales (and being closer to London’s West End), but during our time living in Wales and multiple times of travelling in the UK, we’ve managed to see a lot of our favourite stars live on stage. Since people are always asking us “how do you manage to meet these people?”, we thought we’d put together a quick list of our best London theatre tips. Many of them will possibly apply to any big theatre scene elsewhere, too.
First of all, you’ll need a lot of patience to score a ticket to a big play in London. There are a few ways of saving some pounds when buying theatre tickets, and we’ve probably tried (and often succeeded in) most of them.
Many theatres in London offer so called day tickets to those who didn’t manage to buy theirs when the sales started for a particular play, or for those who simply can not afford the regular £50-£150 ticket prices. Day tickets are the ones you queue for early in the morning, especially if the play is sold out and/or very popular. Sometimes, you might get these tickets by just showing up at the doors when the box office opens, but prepare to be there early if it’s something you really can not miss.
For example, Tiia queued for Kevin Spacey‘s solo performance in Clarence Darrow at The Old Vic for about 6 hours. She showed up at the theatre at 4am and right after, a bunch of other people appeared. By 8am, the queue stretched all the way around the corner of the theatre, and most people there didn’t get in. It was cold, it was rough, but the people in these queues are usually friendly and hold your spot if you need to pop into a shop to get some coffee or to use a toilet somewhere nearby.
Not every theatre does this, but in both London and New York, the Book of Mormon organizes a ticket raffle every day. They usually have the information, dates and times on their website, but it’s useful to follow them on Twitter on your days of ticket hunting as well. How does the raffle work, then? You show up at the theatre door at a given time (usually about 90 minutes before the night’s performance), put your name in a ticket and give it to the guys running the show. After the half an hour ticket collection, they close the ballot and start picking names.
And those lucky winners can then buy tickets for a very low price.And by the way, when we say “show”, we mean it — we’ve tried our luck in both NY and London, and even though we were unlucky with the ticket raffle every time, we absolutely loved the show that these guys put on. It’s like the perfect consolation prize if you don’t get lucky with the actual tickets!
One time, we looked up a few plays we wanted to see but didn’t have tickets to yet. We just headed out there to see if we’d get lucky with The Book of Mormon or any last minute ticket sales. Mormon didn’t happen, but we asked around at the last minute ticket booths in Leicester Square and scored ourselves really good seats from TKTS to Les Misérables — for half the normal price! There are also websites like lastminute.com that list the reduced priced tickets.
These normally go for the regular price, so this is not exactly a tip for cheap tickets. But just in case there’s something you really want to see and are willing to pay the normal price, keep the return queue in mind. How does it work? You can queue at the box office on the same day to see if anyone cancels at the last minute. Usually, the tickets are then sold on to other people on a first come, first served basis.
The National Theatre has partnered with Travelex to offer £15 tickets for their performances, plus at the moment, they run “Friday rush” for £20 tickets. Their website has lots of handy information on scoring cheap tickets, so you might want to check that out. If you’ve got your eyes set on National Theatre, we’d advice signing up to their newsletter to know when these go on sale. There are also the usual discounts here and there for young people, pensioners etc. but you’ll have to check the theatre websites for further information as they vary.
A few years ago we went to see Colin Morgan in The Tempest at the Shakespeare Globe. Thanks to some great London theatre tips online, we knew they had 700 £5 standing tickets for every performance (!) so we bought ours in advance. So, we didn’t have to worry about not seeing the play, but as loyal Colin fangirls, we wanted to grab good seats. (Or, you know, a patch of floor to stand on.) We ended up being the first ones in the queue and securing amazing spots right in front of the stage.
It was amazing: the actors practically used us as props a couple of times, and Tiia said it must’ve been “the most intensive first-time Shakespeare play experience anyone’s ever had”.
If something is very popular, it’ll be down to good luck and patience to get tickets. One good example of recent super sold out shows is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, which broke all theatre ticket sales records and left many weeping after a missed opportunity (although, the total amount of sold tickets was about 100,000, so there was a good chance of getting a return later).
Our best advice is: stay vigilant. If you’re planning a trip to London just to see good theatre, start by following all the major theatre profiles on Twitter and Facebook and signing up to their newsletters. This way, you’ll get the official news, dates and ticket sale information as soon as it’s officially announced. You also might want to look up any additional London theatre tips articles online.
When the tickets go on sale, be ready. Be on the website in good time, follow the instructions, maybe even ask a friend to try their luck as well. Sometimes, the websites crash and it’s better to try calling, sometimes it’s best to be at the box office in person. It all depends, but do your research before it’s time for the ticket rush, and you should be fine!
These days, a lot of famous actors and actresses do theatre. It might be because theatre is where they started their careers in the first place and they’ve always loved it, or maybe because they want to try out new things… or maybe a script and a production just sounded so good to them that they simply couldn’t miss the chance.
During our fangirling days we’ve seen brilliant performances by some of our favourites on stage. Along with Benedict Cumberbatch, we’ve managed to enjoy the performances of David Tennant, Martin Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Darren Criss, James McAvoy, Kelsey Grammer, Andrew Scott, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hiddleston, John Simm, Matt Smith and Kit Harington, and they’re just a few examples of stars who performed in Broadway and West End over the years.
Aside from that, we’re really big fans of the NT Live productions. When it was impossible for us to see a play at the venue where they performed it, we’ve managed to see many of them in our nearest movie theatre. We’ve seen plays starring Gillian Anderson, Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy and many others and they’ve all been almost as good as the real thing.
If you’re like us (a huge film fan and a theatre lover), performances similar to those mentioned above might just be the best thing ever for you. There’s nothing quite like seeing someone you admire live on stage, as the experience is so much richer and so much more unique than watching anything on screen.
Plus, if you’re into selfies and seeing them even more up close, there’s always the stage door. Here are our tips to seeing & meeting your favourite actors in West End.
For any beginners in this weird Hollywood theatre action, a good place to start is Visit London’s dedicated page for any upcoming theatre productions featuring well-known film stars. Also, the theatre’s usually start promoting the shows as soon as they’ve confirmed their main stars. So again, by following the West End news and social media profiles you should be on top of these things.
Sometimes the announcements can come quite late. This happened with American Psycho: The Musical in West End. The play had been in production for quite a while before they announced the Doctor Who star Matt Smith as the lead. As it happens, we spotted the news on their Twitter channel and managed to snatch some of the last tickets available. Vigilance!
In some ways, the stage door hassle is a pretty tricky thing. On one hand, it’s pretty great that people are given the chance to say thanks and hello to their favourite stars. On the other, it’s definitely not part of their job description, so people shouldn’t be offended if it doesn’t happen.
Some actors do it every single night and spend a lot of time posing for selfies with everyone (oh sweetest James McAvoy, I’m sending serious love your way here!), some do it occasionally depending on their mood and level of tiredness. Some announce they won’t be doing it at all during the whole run just to keep the massive crowds away from the back door after performances.
(But if they’re Benedict Cumberbatch, do it anyway just because they’re super nice people…)
The James McAvoy
Comes out after the performance, stays for at least half an hour just to give everyone a chance to say how they loved it and pose for photos in the dark. Doesn’t leave until all the whimsical selfie stick moments have been captures. Disappears into the night looking like a very ordinary dude carrying a backpack.
The Benedict Cumberbatch
Comes out after some of the performances, gives a big speech on the refugee situation, signs autographs patiently but only manages about 10% of the crowd before a manager or someone ushers him back inside, as there’s a million people screaming his name.
The Tom Hiddleston
Lets a security guard organize the whole crowd into calm, neat queues. Meets fans one by one in orderly fashion, signs things and chats, until about an hour has passed.
The Kit Harington
Comes out about half an hour after the performance with wet hair and remnants of guyliner, smelling of shower gel, great destinies, crow feathers and big white canines. Meets fans but keeps a fence between them. Poses for photos, is lovely, makes everyone’s lives magical.
The David Tennant
Runs out with his braided hair and happy face, greets everyone in the queue within 5 minutes and poses for the quickest selfies ever taken.
The Kevin Spacey
Does not come.
We’ve tried many different hotels (whenever we couldn’t stay with friends living in London) and there have been many good and then a few less good experiences. Everyone who’s ever travelled and stayed in London knows it’s a pretty costly city to stay in, but there are a few affordable options to those who know where to look.
During our last trip — the trip that brought us together with Jon Snow! — we stayed at Astor Hostel Queensway. The hostel is just a few steps away from the lovely Kensington Gardens and close to Queensway tube station. And it was a really pleasant surprise! The staff was super friendly, the rooms and common areas clean and colourful, and the location was perfect for us… and really, they’re pretty perfect for anyone who’s looking to stay within a convenient distance from all the London attractions.
Astor has four locations in total in London, each one near the city centre but in slightly different directions. So depending on what you want to see and what amenities you want closest to you, you can pick and choose.
We shared a four-bed dorm between us three at the Queensway hostel and used the extra bed as a place to hold some of our clothes and bags. For people travelling with huge bags the room wasn’t the most spacious option, but in the end, we managed just fine! After paying whopping sums for tiny, dirty hotel rooms in London for a few times now, we’ll probably end up staying with Astor Hostels again in the future.
You’ll find more information on the four Astor Hostels in London on their website, along with photos and handy information on each of the locations. A very reasonably priced option for anyone looking to adventure into the world of West End in the footsteps of Fangirl Quest!
That’s it, folks. Our first batch of London theatre tips! We might be updating the article whenever we think of something new, or any of the information changes drastically, but please check all the current ticket sales details on the theatres’ websites before heading to West End.
We also write about plays and other theatre experiences, but not very often. You’ll find all our theatre related stories under the Theatre tag!