Ticket prices for the musical Elf – opening in London this Christmas – have been released, and the average price is around £250. Per ticket. So if you’re the sort of family so beloved of detergent adverts – two parents, two kids – it will cost you around a thousand pounds just to get in through the door. And that’s assuming that you live in the doorway of the theatre, and so have no travel costs to consider.
It is, obviously, too much for a family ticket to a Christmas musical that presumably lasts less than three hours. On average, a trip for the same family to Disneyland Paris for two days costs almost half that. And that includes a couple of rooms and breakfast. A 1k ticket price puts a lot of pressure on the creative team. I’m not sure that I’d want to be the writer(s) on that show. The expectations for the musical will be so significant, so huge, that it’s reasonably unlikely that anyone sitting in the stalls are going to be truly blown away by what they see. Particularly if they already know that they’re going to have to be hitch-hiking for the journey home.
Clearly the production will want to be awe-inspiring and magical. It’s a Christmas-based show performed during the Christmas period, inspired by a genuine modern classic, and it’s a fair bet that their fake snow will cost as much as the entire annual budget of many regional theatres. And while it’s true that you can produce a lot of magical glitter for very little, audiences are arguably ever more demanding.
I don’t get up to London theatre as much as I’d like to, simply because it’s already too expensive for me. My budget dictates that as soon as we get past £25, maybe £35 a seat, I’m probably going to turn around and make my excuses. My excuses largely being that as much as I’d like to see Miss Saigon, I’d also like to eat this week. But here’s the thing: £35 a ticket (for the cheap seats) isn’t of itself overpriced. Obviously, many London theatres are around a thousand seats or more, and so even if each ticket is just £5, that will be (hang on – where’s my calculator) five thousand pounds coming through the box office. And yet. That’s not a clear five thousand for the theatre: each actor has to be paid Equity rates, as does every stage manager, costume fitter, sound and light operators, riggers, set designers, writers, musicians, ushers, and the many others on each production that I’m failing to list here. As much as I can’t really afford any ticket over £40, I also am impressed that any major London production is able to let tickets go for anything less. I suppose we can thank the ‘early adopters’ – those people who do pay full whack for a show, allowing the rest of us to get a ticket for much less. Although if you do get a £10 ticket on the front seat, it is considered polite to keep your mouth shut about it, just on the off-chance that you’re sitting next to a family of four that don’t know how they’re getting home tonight.