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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
Putting a price on the West End
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News entertainment reporter

Ewan McGregor
McGregor has pulled in the crowds to West End revival Guys & Dolls
Top price tickets to London musicals, including Mary Poppins and Guys and Dolls, now cost 55 - calling into question just how accessible London's Theatreland is to the average earner.

In Broadway, tickets to Monty Python musical Spamalot recently rose to a record $111.25 (63.60), suggesting that prices on both sides of the Atlantic continue to creep upwards.

Producers cite escalating production costs, but Spamalot has paid back its initial investment after six and a half months on Broadway, and Guys and Dolls, starring Ewan McGregor, recouped 3m investment costs in just 17 weeks.

Some industry observers believe pricing London's top shows has become an exercise in exclusivity.

Samuel West
The bottom line about a theatre is the expense, or lack of expense, of its tickets
Samuel West, artistic director of Sheffield Theatres

"The bottom line about a theatre is the expense, or lack of expense, of its tickets," says Samuel West, new artistic director of the Sheffield Theatres.

"The West End doesn't allow you to try because tickets are 55. Then you have to take a taxi and pay the baby-sitter, and there is no change out of 200.

"If we charge 10, or on our public dress rehearsals, 1 - you might not like it, but at least you can afford to come back next week."

Nonetheless, theatre attendance is on the increase.

In August, the Society of London Theatre reported that shows in the West End now play to an average of 250,000 people every week - a rise of 7% on last year's record figures.

Kevin Spacey, promoting his second season as artistic director at the Old Vic, said he believed the Old Vic is attracting "younger and more diverse" theatregoers.

Charlotte Emmerson and Val Kilmer in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Londoners took advantage of discounts to see stars like Kilmer

But both the commercial sector and the subsidised sector rely increasingly on ticket incentives and half price ticket booths to boost audience numbers.

Indeed some critics maintain that ticket prices only go up to make discounts look more attractive.

Tkts, the only official discount ticket operator in London, sell 45,000 theatre tickets each month, 90% at half price.

With typically 30 productions on offer, predominantly musicals and dramas, tkts sales account for 4% of all West End ticket sales.

Unsurprisingly, tourists account for more than half of all tkts customers, but 25% of customers are London residents.

First-time bookers

The National Theatre established the 10 Travelex season in 2003, in a bid to attract more young people and fill auditoriums.

Under the current scheme - which finished this weekend - roughly two-thirds of the tickets for four productions at the National's Olivier Theatre were available at 10.

This year, the third Travelex season sold 33,000 tickets to new theatregoers and played to 93% capacity audiences.

Ticket incentives are very important
Rosemary Squire

The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) - which owns 11 theatres in London's West End - and 13 regional venues, is also eager to develop new audiences.

"Ticket incentives are very important," says ATG's Rosemary Squire, citing a cut-price campaign run across the West End this summer to attract new customers to their London playhouses.

"The campaign brought about 2,500 new ticket buyers and 75,000 worth of sales.

"More importantly we captured all that information on database so that we can target people who may have only tried theatre once on a cheap deal, to try and persuade them to come back."


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