Dicky Benfield is in his 40s and has worked in the West End, at the National, the Globe and in theatres around the country, as well as regular TV appearances
Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally
Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television
Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is a writer and street performer
Jon ‘Cheaper tickets’ is always the suggestion when it comes to discussing accessibility. But how do we do it (without lowering our own fees, which I’m guessing isn’t a popular idea)?
Peter By spending more money on the arts. As far as prices are concerned, a West End show is an occasional treat for me.
Annie Offer a wider range of ticket prices?
Beryl Spend less on production costs?
Jon That’s interesting: simpler sets, fewer costumes, that kind of thing?
Beryl That’s what I was thinking. I don’t know the answer, but I know there’s a huge problem with access and elitism.
Dicky It’s more about unfilled seats being able to be bought cheaply. It makes commercial sense to sell a ticket with 15 minutes to curtain-up rather than have empty seats.
Jon Dicky, that is a brilliant suggestion – £10 rush tickets to everything that isn’t sold out.
Annie Yes. I was trying to book a seat at Shakespeare’s Globe, 10 minutes before the show started and they were still trying to flog it for about £80. They’d rather have the seat empty than let someone pay £20 for it. That blew my mind.
Beryl It’s a silly policy not to let the seats that are left go for cheaper prices.
Annie I suppose they then run the risk of just having last-minute bookings.
Peter The trouble is that audiences see lavish sets and costumes but they don’t see what theatre workers are paid.
Annie I think there should be a few tickets per show that are completely free and given to people who just don’t have the money. However, I really don’t know how we’d do this or if it would work. I feel that there are so many people who would want to see theatre but don’t really have it on their radar. I’m not talking about London shows necessarily – this applies everywhere.
Beryl Theatre doesn’t need to be all bells and whistles – what about the stories?
Vivian The ticket prices that are the most eye-watering are in the West End. And they run on audiences that are tourists, or people who make it their treat once or twice a year, and are willing to pay that price. I have noticed that they do seem to be getting exponentially dearer – much faster than the rate of inflation. Is this a case of producers taking the piss?
Dicky There are a few theatres where you can buy a ticket for someone you don’t know. I saw this when I was on tour.
Jon That’s a brilliant idea too – paying it forward. There was that guy [Ben Hewis] who set up a crowdfunding page online to take young women who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see it to Emilia.
Beryl It shouldn’t be down to individuals. We need change at the root.
Peter More and more West End shows are big musicals – and tourists especially want to see spectacle.
Beryl Why are we there? To look at a set? Or to experience a story?
Annie Set and costume aids the story of course, but I agree with you, Beryl.
Peter I think there are two separate audiences: real theatregoers, who want to be stimulated by a good play, and the coach parties and tourists who want to see a ‘show’.
Beryl There’s space for both I think.
Dicky That’s a bit elitist, Peter.
Beryl Attitudes about who can afford are and who deserves to access it: here we go again…
Dicky Just because someone comes on a coach from the North East to see Billy Elliot, it doesn’t make them a less discerning viewer.
Annie It probably means more to them…
Peter Of course there is crossover. But the audience that goes to see a jukebox musical, for instance, would be disappointed if they didn’t see high production values. The audience for a Caryl Churchill play probably wouldn’t.
Beryl A jukebox musical could be done really well with actors, a few boxes, some instruments and loads of talent. I think it is still an assumption that ‘those’ audiences want pizzazz and big sets.
Jon There’s also a kind of vicious circle happening here. The higher the prices set by commercial producers, the more subsidised theatres can charge. If a subsidised theatre sees tickets for a hit show changing hands for £150, they must surely think: “Well maybe we could go up to £100.”
Vivian That’s a fear.
Jon We should add that most shows, commercial and subsidised, tend to have a few cheap seats for each show. But not enough of them, not cheap enough, and they’re often so uncomfortable and so far from the stage that they’re not going to encourage people to come back.
Dicky There’s always a block of empty seats at rep venues where they’ve tried the ‘premium seats’ route and they didn’t sell.
Jon And although it’s a comparison that’s made all the time, it’s not just theatre. Some tickets for the Barcelona versus Man Utd Champions League quarter final were £240.
Peter Going back to the commercial theatre, there is the problem of the ‘angels’ who finance West End productions. If they didn’t see the prospect of making a big killing on a hit would they be less willing to risk money on a chance?
Annie I just want to see where the money has gone. If I’d paid £100 to see a two-hander in a massive theatre with no music, barely any set and no scene changes, I would be pissed off. If I saw a show with epic sets and a cast of 30 for the same price I’d understand it because all those people need to be paid.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email firstname.lastname@example.org