Hot tickets fetch £500 for a pair

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is locked in a battle with dozens of its members after discovering them selling their advance tickets for the London run of Hamlet on eBay, at hugely inflated prices of up to £500 a pair.

The play, which features the Doctor Who star David Tennant as the melancholy Danish prince, and Patrick Stewart as his treacherous uncle Claudius, opened in Stratford-upon-Avon last night. The production travels to the Novello Theatre in London's West End in December.

Tickets for the London performances do not go on sale to the general public until 12 September, but members of the RSC were able to purchase theirs in advance. Although the face value of the best seats is only £40, tickets were being sold on eBay yesterday for up to £500 for a pair.

The RSC's marketing staff have been trying to fight the trade in black market tickets by emailing the guilty sellers and demanding they stop the auctions. In some cases, where the row and seat number were listed, they were able to pinpoint the exact member and threaten to cancel their tickets. "We're doing everything in our power to try and curb this kind of activity, but it's not something we can prevent," said a spokeswoman for the RSC. "On the whole, people do remove them from the site and return them to us, either to be refunded or swapped for another performance."

The RSC also confirmed that it received a flood of membership applications following the announcement of Tennant's casting. Membership costs £36 a year.

A spokesman for eBay said: "It is perfectly legal to resell tickets to theatre productions ... In fact, it's often a credit to the popularity of such performances that this is often the only way that people can get hold of a ticket."