West End producers 'are ripping off theatre-goers'

Practice of 'premium pricing' for popular shows hides the true cost of booking the best seats

West End producers are "ripping off" theatregoers with misleading information about top-priced seats for popular shows such as War Horse and Yes, Prime Minister, critics claim.

Industry insiders have accused Britain's biggest theatre groups, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group and Cameron Mackintosh's Delfont Mackintosh, of introducing "premium" and even "superior" priced tickets to hide the true cost of the best seats in the house. The move risks tipping the cost of a West End theatre ticket above £100 and makes some plays more expensive to watch than musicals, even though plays are vastly cheaper to produce.

Anyone hoping to book for The Children's Hour, starring Keira Knightley and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, might think that £60 would secure the best seat in the house. That was the top of the price band unveiled by the Ambassador Theatre Group, the company behind the play, when booking opened. But irate early bookers found ATG was charging £75 for so-called "premium seats" in most of the stalls and first circle. Last month, ATG increased the top price yet further, introducing new "superior seats" for £85.

Mark Shenton, who writes for The Stage magazine, said the play's producers were "not being transparent about the top price for seats". He added: "Premium pricing is driven by greed. How can we be as expensive as Broadway when our costs are significantly lower? It's a very short-term view because it will turn going to the theatre into a luxury."

Richard Andrews, an independent theatre consultant who monitors ticket prices for the Society of London Theatres, called it "sharp practice" to pretend the top price is £60 when the best seats are £85. "It is cheating the public," he added. "The point is to rip people off. There is no justification. It's just a price rise."

The Children's Hour, which opens on 22 January, is not the only culprit. Premium seats for Yes, Prime Minister, at the Gielgud Theatre, part of the Delfont Mackintosh group, cost £95 over the Christmas period. And although it looks as though tickets for War Horse range from £49.50 to £15, the best "premium" seats are £85.

Premium-priced seats were first sold on Broadway for The Producers in 2001. The device, which has yet to extend outside the West End to regional theatres, started appearing in the UK in 2006 but has only recently become widespread. Subsidised theatres, such as the National, keep their prices much lower.

Andrew Girvan, deputy editor of What's On Stage magazine, said: "There's a limit to what the market will bear. It will be interesting to see if there's a psychological barrier." He said producers tended to charge more for shows with big stars, such as Moss and Knightley, but this wasn't necessarily to recoup a bigger wage bill. "Big-name stars attract bigger prices because producers think people will be willing to pay more to watch stars on stage, but the economics of it is not that simple," he added.

Damien Hewitt, who heads production marketing at ATG, defended premium pricing. "The West End has found there's a market for a consumer who wants to sit in the best seats in the house, which attract a premium, rather like on an aeroplane. You've only got so long to make money from a play. Tickets for The Children's Hour are in line with other premium seats at plays across the West End. In the end, it comes down to supply and demand. We're seeing healthy demand for premium seats."

The Society of London Theatres, which produces an annual report that includes attendance levels and box-office revenues, said that average ticket prices in the West End hit £35.40 in 2009, up from £24.79 in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, total gross box-office revenue rose by 61 per cent to £470m, much faster than the 18 per cent growth in theatre attendances, which stood at 13.6 million in 2007.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?