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London Theatre Tips For TV Fans and Budget Travellers

Gillian Anderson in A Street Car Named Desire: West End cheap tickets and stage door tips

Gillian Anderson in A Street Car Named Desire

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.

How to get cheap West End tickets?

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.

David Tennant as Richard II / Royal Shakespeare Company

David Tennant as Richard II in Stratford-upon-Avon, later reprised at the Barbican, London © Elliot Franks

Day Tickets

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.

Clarence Darrow ticket queue in London West End

Tiia, a happy camper and massive fan of Kevin Spacey, queueing for Clarence Darrow tickets in London

Theatre ticket raffles

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!

Last minute ticket booths in Leicester Square and nearby

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.

Gillian Anderson in A Street Car Named Desire: West End cheap tickets and stage door tips

Gillian Anderson in A Street Car Named Desire © Tristram Kenton

Return 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.

Other theatre ticket discounts

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.

Kit Harington Doctor Faustus

Kit Harington as Doctor Faustus © Marc Brenner

£5 standing tickets at Shakespeare’s Globe

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”.

London theatre tips: Shakespeare's Globe

Queueing to see The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe

Getting tickets to popular plays

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!

Hollywood actors doing theatre

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.

London theatre tips for the stage doors

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.

London theatre tips: Meeting Kit Harington in London

Some VERY happy Game of Thrones fans posing for a selfie with Kit Harington!

Who’s on?

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!

London theatre tips: Matt Smith in American Psycho The Musical

Matt Smith in American Psycho: The Musical © Miles Aldridge

How to meet the actors?

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…)

Andrew Scott, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and James McAvoy at stage doors

Fangirl Quest with Andrew Scott, Tom Hiddleston and James McAvoy at stage doors plus a very excited Tiia carrying a signed Hamlet programme.

 

A few examples of how things might go down if the main stars decide to come out for meet & greets…

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.

London theatre tips: James McAvoy in The Ruling Class

James McAvoy in The Ruling Class, one of the best things we’ve ever seen © Johan Persson

Where to stay during your West End visit?

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.

London theatre tips: Astor Hostels Queensway. Friendly staff!

Astor Hostel’s staff was really friendly. Very cool, welcoming people! Photo by Astor Hostels.

London theatre tips: Astor Hostels Queensway. The common room and happy campers!

The common areas weren’t this full of smiling faces when we were there, but we met plenty of happy fellow travellers during our stay

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!

Have any West End tips of your own? Do leave a comment below!

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Tiia / Fangirl Quest
Tiia / Fangirl Quest
Photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter, marketing assistant. I once traveled across North America in flipflops. I love dogs, ketchup and many inspiring people. Visit my photo portfolio here.

7 Comments

  1. P says:

    Some useful tips there, thanks!

    But I have to say I’m disappointed that you post pictures without naming the sources/photographers and even say at the bottom that all photographs and content copyright yours which is even worse. Not acceptable for anyone but for a photographer to do so, really disappointing.

    • Hello! Thanks for the comment. The theatre photos are all promotional photos, and it’s pretty unusual to name the sources for those (at least when it comes to bands, I’m the official photographer for a big-ish one so I know). But you’re right, theatre is different so the “rules” might be different and at least, it would be polite, so I’ll fix it as soon as possible! :)

      Did you have a specific photo in mind (as in, do you know any of the photographers’ names, as it would help!) or was this just a general comment? It might be hard to find the exact information but I’m sure I’ll find it for most of them. And I guess I can always link to the theatre pages.

      The non-promo photos were all taken by me so they should be fine!

      • P says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        No, I didn’t have a specific photo in mind, just noticed that all the pictures aren’t yours and was baffled that you failed to mention it. You see people taking other people’s photos without mentioning the source all the time on Twitter and it’s annoying, I expected more here. If you don’t know the photographer you could at least mention that they are promotional pictures since you say at the bottom of the page that all pictures are yours. I’m not sure about rules but at least online magazines mention the photographers even when using promotional pictures so I’m assuming that is the common, and at least like you said the polite, way.

        I did a two second googling and actually it’s very easy to find the names of the photographers. The James McAvoy pic is by Johan Persson, Matt Smith is by Miles Aldridge, Kit Harington by Marc Brenner etc.

  2. Hey, we’ve just added the names, I know it isn’t hard once you have a minute to do it. We’ve just been super super busy lately (I think that’s one reason I didn’t stop to think with the credits). Believe, I’m a firm believer in crediting, it’s just that I’m used to not crediting movie/theatre photos. I wouldn’t use a photo from another blog, for example, without asking for permission, let alone crediting!

    But yes. Here we are. All fixed now :)

    And oh… I think it’s pretty obvious I wasn’t trying to steal the credit or imply they were mine. If they were, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops – amazing photos, every single one :D

  3. McB says:

    Heyyy! Thank you so much for this! I’m planning a trip to London and have been secrettly dreaming of meeting some actors. Maybe now I can…. will check out the hostel too, looks comfy!!!x

  4. Carla says:

    Hey! I’m gonna be visiting London for a week next month. I want to attempt meeting Andrew Scott or John Boyega at the stage door after the show. Any idea if they do it? Tips even?

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