Sold Out



London has quietly opened a new theatre.

The Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Theatre is named after the man who spent much of his life restoring Shakespeare’s Globe to London. The idea is to create the real sensation of early theatre, performing in a space lit  by candlelight.

The Guardian had this to say: ‘The experience is exact to the extent that the stage is lit by candles, with the result that, with the addition of 340 people sitting in a small space, ushers are warning customers to leave their coats in the cloakroom because it had turned out to be “so hot in there.” The stepped wooden benches are also relentlessly uncomfortable: no one who has a deep personal concern with both theatre of the Shakespearean era and the management of long-term sciatica should risk the Wanamaker. Whereas watching plays at the the Globe has become associated with the experience of rain pouring or dripping on to the stage and the audience, the trademarks of the Sam Wanamaker may become cascades of sweat and candlewax and visits to the osteopath the morning after.’

Not this this is keeping people away. Forgive me if the lament is becoming a litany, but as London roars out of recession and property demand outstrips supply by eight to one (cf last night’s Evening Standard), its finite leisure resources are fast vanishing. Forget going to special events; everything gets sold out months before it opens, so there’s no point in us reading reviews anymore because you and I won’t be there. I’m almost tempted to phone the box office for ‘Wolf Hall’ just to hear their tinkling, merry laughter when I ask for a seat to any performance, ever.

And forget spontaneity, too. When even bars are starting to ask you to reserve seats in advance, you know the system is overloaded. I knew there was no point in trying for tickets at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre – it holds 340 (Gemma Arterton debuts in ‘The Duchess of Malfi’, in case you want to know what you’re missing). But what staggers me is that they still offer promotional code discounts on their website, and keep reviewing the damned thing in the press. Who gets promotional codes? I’ve never had one in a lifetime of going out in London. Do I mix in the wrong circles?  I don’t approve of networking, and have never done it, but clearly someone does.

The Trouble With Bots

And now, anything special that’s bookable online (i.e.. everything) is besieged by bots, swallowing up all the tickets and reflogging them at six times their face-price. A tiny handful of tickets are held back for those prepared to stand in inclement weather for hours. When I went to The Globe, having fought to get a ticket for ‘The Tempest’, the entire block in front of me was booked by Russian girls who talked and fidgeted and left 20 minutes after it started, presumably so they could say they’d been to Shakespeare. The empty seats were not resold. Restaurants are tricky, and the popularity of non-reservation policy has grown. Before Christmas I stood outside Randall & Aubin in the rain for over an hour to be served a really disappointing, overpriced meal.

The answer is clear; support your local theatres and art galleries, and travel if necessary. They have to balance art with crowd-pleasers, so you have to weed out the rubbish from the good shows, but it’s worth the effort. Right now, with wearying predictability, the arts are fighting for life under fresh rounds of cuts as Tory politicians harp on about profitability.

A nation without art for all of its people is not a democracy. All rants welcome.

7 comments on “Sold Out”

  1. pheeny says:

    With the return of Rachmanism, the “undeserving poor” and Mr Gradgrind on the one hand and the worship at the shrine of all things vintage on the other it seems to me that Britain is slowly becoming a kind of History theme park for the wealthy of the world

  2. snowy says:

    The economics of ticket bots is interesting, [well mildly and probably only to me], but they might actually make tickets cheaper, if one is prepared to wait. [Sunk Costs, a stultifyingly dull topic so I’ll go no further.]

    Not surprised it’s hot, from memory it takes 50 candles to equal the light of an old style 100W bulb and burning 50 candles will produce about 4kW of heat.

    The building will have been insulated to modern standards and is probably sealed tighter than the bottom of a very frightened frog. So all the heat that used to escape through the roof is trapped within the structure.

    Oh, Local Theatres, I can see mine from here, never been inside since it was rebuilt, is it because I am a dreadful Philistine? Well possibly! But I put it down to not really having a taste for tribute acts, wrestling, third rate comedians or superannuated pop stars doing a two hour medley of their greatest hit from 1953.

    [Don’t get me started on restaurants, last time I did some work in one it was a total ‘mare, supposed to have free run of the place between serving times and up rock Duran Duran for a photo shoot. There may have been some harsh words.]

  3. Fiona says:

    I recently signed up to something called The Audience Club – look them up on google. You have to wait a bit but then they e-mail you to let you know when a space has freed up. They list fringe theatre around London and you can get discounted tickets with them to see shows. My friend recommended them.

    The Donmar Warehouse Theatre has something called Barclays Front Row. Every Monday they sell the front row seats for £10 a seat. You can only buy 2 tickets and can only do this once during the run of a play. This is to give us poor people a chance at seeing something. It is a bun-fight but I recommend giving it a go. – 10am Monday.

    At the moment they are showing Coriolanus with the delectable and incredible Tom Hiddleston. Mark Gatiss is also in it and very good. I enjoyed it immensely. Due to the Hiddleston effect there are many fans trying to get tickets so it does make it very challenging! However, be patient whilst the clock whirls around telling you you’re in the queue and it’ll be 10 mins. If you get to the main ticket page and it says Sold Out, try clicking the refresh button a few times. I did that and some tickets came up – the BUY button appears when that happens. Good luck!

  4. Fiona says:

    Oh – and if you like comedy, sign up for the Leicester Square Theatre e-mail. They often have big-name acts testing out their new show before heading out on the road to play in larger venues.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    As I recall, it was Fiona who had tickets to something Admin was moaning about missing so her advice appears to be good.
    The last theatre I was at was MS Margolies doing Dickens’ Women (extremely good)in a local theatre converted from a church. Plays are expensive to put on so there’s a lot of road company productions and otherwise it’s solo and two handed pieces. Our senior company lost its lease on the major building through a combination of bad management and misunderstanding. The second company uses several sites and is fortunately thriving and beyond that you have to look to the university and college theatres.
    London has what… too many productions? but not enough seats? Everyone is suddenly going to the theatre? There are too many tourists? (given those Russian girls, perhaps so) There’s always a rant, Chris, the plays are old hat, the run is too short (or too long) the productions are all the same type. Nevertheless, up to now you’ve nearly always got in so perhaps there’s now a serious problem.
    A group of retired teachers from here travels to London every winter to go to plays for a week. I haven’t heard complaints from that quarter, but they are probably block booked from the moment the plays are set.

  6. Vivienne says:

    Great advice here, but it’s a shame not to be able to be spontaneous. So far, fingers crossed, it’s still possible to walk at will without a moment’s notice.

  7. Fiona says:

    Thanks Helen. Yes, being an impoverished civil servant who doesn’t earn massive sums of money I have had to find ways of having a social life that doesn’t cost me a fortune. For me the BFI will always be a great way of going out and not breaking the bank. I also signed up to ShowFilmFirst – again google them – I have seen a couple of free films through them on preview. Again, you have to be quick off the mark when they send their e-mail around. I also subscribe to The Sunday Times as it’s cheaper, I was buying it every week anyway and you get membership of the Times Plus club. I’ve been to a couple of their events with writers and also a few of their free film screenings, which I’ve been able to take a friend with me to see. So, there are ways and means – it just takes time to work them all out. Time Out has a good e-mail that offers discounts on various things. They sometimes give you a heads up on shows too. ATG also send out e-mails about up-coming shows. If you have favourite bands or comedians, go onto their websites and sign-up. That way you’ll get a pre-sale and notification of when they have shows. Hope that all helps – it’s taken me 7 years to gather all my London information! Previously, I lived in New York and people in work were always amazed by what I knew.

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