How To Find a Good Theatre Seat
Friends often ask me where the best place is to sit for a show. Different shows, in different theatres. Like, just because I work in theatre, I have some intricate knowledge of each show, venue and direction to be able to categorically tell them where they should sit.
I don’t. Nor do I want the responsibility for their decision.
There are over forty venues in London’s Theatreland alone, not to mention the wider circle of fringe venues that skirt the capital. Estimates say there are nearer 1,300 venues across the UK.
In 2017, more than fifteen million people sat in a London theatre seat. That's a lot of opinions to be counted.
I’ve probably visited up to fifty theatres, maybe more. I just tried to count but I can’t remember all of them. Which means I certainly can’t advise you on the best seat in each.
The Finborough has just fifty seats and the Royal Albert Hall nearly four thousand. I’ve been to shows at both and probably got the best view at the Finborough, at a fraction of the price of an Albert Hall show. But the seats weren’t as comfortable.
So how do you pick your seats?
Leaving Fringe venues aside for now, in most West End theatres, you will have a choice between Stalls and a differing number of Circles (Dress, Royal, Grand, Upper, etc). Stalls are the ground floor seats that join up to the stage. Circles are upper levels, which have a balcony view across the stalls to the stage.
Some prefer the close proximity of the front stalls, although you will have chronic neck ache by the interval of Hamilton in Row A, or require a bank loan for the Premium seats anywhere between Row C and J.
Other love the view from the Circle. Here, beware the curse of a restricted view courtesy of many a balcony safety handrail in the front rows, particularly bad in the upper circles, where those in the front row lean forward, therefore blocking the views of those behind them.
Encore Tickets offer guidance on where to sit. Always be wary of anything that is a restricted view and, while a Box may sound glamorous, they were always more about being seen at the theatre, than seeing the theatre itself – your view will nearly always be from one side or another across the stage.
Then there’s design and direction to consider. Have the creative forces behind the show really paid attention to what the cheap seats (and I use the term ‘cheap’ loosely) will see? Or did they set the whole show in rehearsals from their seats in the stalls, meaning the audience above are more likely to be following wigs around stage than actors faces.
So, I can’t answer your question. I only know where I like to sit and what I might do to check out a seat before buying.
First, ask friends – simply, ‘have you seen this show, whereabouts did you sit and were the seats any good?’
Seatplan list reviews for most shows in London, together with photos from many seats. Their interactive seat layout gives you others’ opinions on whether the seats you are looking at splashing your cash on are anything like value for money. The photos will give you an idea of your view of the stage, without a producer’s spin on it.
Theatre Monkey have also been around for a while now, with tips on seats and tickets that cover all the major venues. It’s a bit of a trawl sometimes, but surely worth the few minutes extra when parting with anywhere between £30 and £200 per seat? They also give you extra info about leg-room or whether shorter people may struggle because of the rake of the seats.
Beware many of the ticket booths around the West End. Their job is to sell the remaining tickets left for that day’s shows for whatever they can get. Any empty seat is lost revenue once the curtain goes up, but the booth will most likely be closed should you wish to complain about your seat when the curtain comes down.
Do your research. By all means, buy from the booths if there's a bargain going, but don’t take the seller's word that you are getting a great seat for a great price. They will hold the ticket while you go onto either of the above sites and check for yourself.
And if you’re not sure about a show, why not take a punt with a cheaper seat first, before deciding whether you want to pay a bit more next time to get closer to the action?