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Horrible Histories producer boycotts Leeds Grand over booking fee ‘racket’

Alison Fitzjohn and Neal Foster in Horrible Histories at the Garrick Theatre, London. Photo: Jane Hobson Alison Fitzjohn and Neal Foster in Horrible Histories at the Garrick Theatre, London. Photo: Jane Hobson
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The producer of Horrible Histories and David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny has pulled all future shows from Leeds Grand Theatre in protest at its “totally unjustifiable” booking fees.

In an email to the theatre seen by The Stage, the manager of Birmingham Stage Company, Neal Foster, called the fees “a blatant racket” and “frankly ludicrous”. Every ticket sold by the theatre, including tickets for school groups, incurs a £3 booking fee and a £1 restoration levy.

The theatre said that the £1 ticket levy can only be used for restoring and maintaining the grade II-listed building.

In 2005, Leeds Grand underwent a major refurbishment estimated to have cost £31.5 million.

The theatre insists that its fees, which have been in place for two and a half years, are transparent both to production companies and to customers.

The company was to due to take a new David Walliams show, Awful Auntie, to the theatre in July 2018 and a production of Horrible Histories in November 2019. These performances have been cancelled.

The initial school ticket price agreed with the venue was £12, but Foster said he decreased it to £10 to make it more affordable after the booking fee.

Foster told The Stage: “They’ve only managed to sell 30% of the seats for the school shows. This is a show that’s selling out all over the country, but it’s not selling out in Leeds because they’re trying to extort money off six-year-old children.”

The Grand is not the only venue to charge booking fees and restoration levies, but Foster said: “They’re the most expensive tickets for children on the entire tour, and we’re going to 70 venues around the country.”

Birmingham Stage Company is unfunded and relies on box office income. Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Ltd receives £200,000 from Leeds City Council to support three venues – City Varieties Music Hall, Hyde Park Picture House and the Grand. According to the theatre, this amounts to 1% of its income.

In a statement Chris Blythe, chief executive for Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House said: “We are a small charitable company simply trying to keep our building open and operating as theatre.”

He added: “The theatre does not take the ticket’s face value but generally operates on a split deal from which the production company takes the majority. The remaining figure, along with the booking fee, secondary sales and some funding goes to form our income from which we pay staff and on-costs, utility bills, the general upkeep of building and much more.”

“This next financial year will see us make a minimal surplus – the first for some years – which will be ploughed back into the company for the benefit of the public and the visiting companies.”

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