Wednesday, 19 August 2015



Today the ticket prices were revealed for the much-anticipated Elf The Musical – playing at the Dominion theatre over Christmas. There has been lots of hype about the show – the musical was a hit on Broadway a couple of years ago, the film is one of the most successful Christmas films of all time (I laughed so hard my Miss Saigon blow-up-doll nearly burst), and they’ve assembled a wonderful cast – although personally I’d have loved to see Elaine Paige give her Santa, dear.

I know lots of young and old children who can’t wait to see this production – which stars wonderful Ben Forster and Kimberley Walsh. But to then see the ticket prices – starting from £48 for an upper circle ticket right up to a vomit-inducing £250 – has really put me in a bah-humbug mood.  I mean, the cost of one premium ticket could buy me two bottles of 2004 vintage Dom Perignon, dear.

The question is - is it greed, is it necessity, or is it a sign of things to come? Sadly it’s a combination of all three. Last year the show had it’s UK premiere at Plymouth Theatre Royal (many of that cast are returning this year) - where the show was very successful. Now of course, Plymouth is not the glittering west end – but it’s very interesting to see that the ticket pricing for the Plymouth production was £15-£42.50 - so the highest priced seat there was in fact cheaper than the lowest price seat at the Dominion. In fact it means that in the past year, and due to the fact that the show is in London the ticket prices are six times higher. Obviously a theatre in the west end has much higher rental costs (I know this only too well myself), contractors are more costly and advertising is essential yet expensive. But hiking up the ticket prices by such a ridiculous amount is insane (I’d understand if it included return flights to Lapland and a little elf called Sondheim to take home, dear).

It seems to me that the producers are wanting to get a very fat Santa Claus belly from their takings – of course that’s what we producers want – but they’ve increased the prices so steeply that it could in fact have the opposite effect. It is interesting to note that last year Elf was produced by a subsidised theatre – but now it has external investors and producers turning it into a commercial production – where of course the aim is to make money. Now this is not a bad thing, we all do this, indeed many of our most celebrated theatre companies do  – the National has recently had huge success turning subsidised work into huge commercial ventures (War Horse, One Man Two Guvnors) – but these shows had a big difference in pricing offers available – starting from £10 day seats and other reduced rates. Elf currently doesn’t appear to have any such availability, making it seem like a project solely based on greed and vanity.

Let me try and defend the hefty ticket prices for a moment. The stars of Elf are well known and seasoned performers – but I doubt they’ll be demanding ridiculous wages. Including Ben and Kimberley there is a cast of 23 (excluding the kids). So this all adds up – although the actors won’t be seeing much of the profits, they never do. I imagine the set will be the one used at Plymouth last year – although it may have been extended - and also many of the costumes will be reused. There are the rights for the piece to pay for, theatre staff, merchandising, musician’s wages – all of which is standard in a west end musical. I didn’t see the show in Plymouth last year, but I know the set is not a huge ‘Lord Of The Rings’ spectacular needing tens of millions. So in terms of finances for putting on a west end musical it will be fairly standard, certainly no more than the norm.

Of course one vital thing to remember is that this show only has a limited 10-week season – which makes it harder for producers and investors to recoup costs – but with tickets at such staggering prices it easily will (if it sells). But of course there is no guarantee that a show will ever sell anyway, although I’d be inclined to agree that this one will  - but only if the tickets are priced right.

The problem now is that Elf The Musical has the reputation of being the most expensive show in London - and consequently has a lot to live up to. It had lots of good reviews when it was on Broadway, and indeed in Plymouth last year – but it is not garnered with awards like The Book of Mormon (which slightly helps justify it’s prices) - for £250 you want to be watching the best piece of theatre you’ll ever see. But The Book of Mormon is not a family show - Elf is – and the main audience it’s aiming at is children. And that’s why it really is not fair. Most families have simply been priced out of seeing it.

Which leads me back to my main gripe - that theatre again is becoming a luxury activity for the wealthy. Your average family certainly couldn’t afford to pay £250 per ticket (top price tickets in the prime Christmas dates of Elf) – indeed who in their right mind would part with that kind of money for 2 hours of entertainment in the dark? Now of course I’m a big advocate of theatre, indeed it is my job – but when things get like this people really need to speak out – otherwise it will become a purely upper class hobby.  

It is a fact that shows rarely make money.  You’d be surprised at how many seemingly ‘successful’ shows only just covered costs (which deems them successful anyway).  Not every show is a sure-fire hit. Indeed so many musicals and plays have recently closed alarmingly early  – but that doesn’t mean you should try and re-coup for the failure of your other shows by charging ridiculous prices for a show that has ‘hit’ written all over it. But will the ticket prices put people off? Maybe, who knows.

I imagine the plan is to have Elf sledging its way into a different west end theatre every Christmas now – if this year is successful. But I just don’t know how successful it will be. If the tickets were priced fairly then it certainly would be – it would be the perfect family Christmas show. But these absurd prices are enough to put anyone off – some purely out of principle. So what can be done? Should people not go and see it? No – people should just book the cheaper tickets. The last thing we want is the show to close and those poor actors and people involved to be out of work. No – what I hope is that Elf sells well, apart from the top price tickets – as that will send a message to the people setting those ridiculous unjustified prices.

What is needed is a rethink. They need to put the ticket prices down, starting from the most expensive, all the way down to the upper circle seats. Admit you’ve made a mistake and make them standard west end prices. People will forgive you straight away. Add some day tickets, and concessions - and you will have a sell out show. It is worrying, it really is – and makes one wonder if eventually we need a capping system in theatre pricing. Of course even stating that is ludicrous, as if people are prepared to pay these prices then companies will always charge them. So the trend has to stop. Theatre is not just a luxury good that only the wealthy can access – it is an art form that needs to be embraced and experienced by all. Otherwise live theatre will be misunderstood and ignored by a large portion of society. And that in turn will kill the whole community and creation of good theatre. 

Anyhow. I’ve gone on long enough. I imagine Michael Rose will be rather pleased with all this publicity  - I certainly would – all publicity is good publicity. Let’s see what happens. I hope it doesn’t flop. I just hope the premium seats don’t sell, and that doctor theatre slaps someone somewhere and changes the ticket prices. Otherwise they will become the norm - and I’ll have to start a scholarship fund that allows people to go to the theatre.

Nighty night, dear.


  1. Or you could come to see a brand new musical instead.

  2. What would the Dublin Bord Gáis Energy Theatre be getting out of this financially when they're an "In Association With". The tickets were much cheaper when it played there by the way.

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  4. Agree with the above, but there is an additional point to make. At the risk of sounding fatalistic, £150+ for Book of Mormon and £190 for Royal Opera House means that this slide into ticket-price GaGaLand has been a slow and assured one. We must remember that the ROH prices are set against an infrastructure of Arts Council/Lottery support and a charity status that attracts millions in additional financial subsidies (commercial and private). Not many would argue against Opera being traditionally the haunt of the wealthy, which is propagated by such prices. For me. the real greed is not in the private fly-by-night popup productions that invest their own risk-money (which keeps grafting performers in work), but in the long-established organisations that bleed the taxpayer's pocket with permission to help themselves again at the box office (even though most of the taxpayers will never be able to afford to see the product of their public investment. Yes, this also keeps people in work, but Elf, I believe, is the lesser evil as the former (ROH) is institutionalised double-theft skulduggery. It's a license to print tickets where the telephone number has a pound sign in front of it.

  5. I like this article.... very balanced.... and I agree with what has been written... I would however point out that across The Pond... pricing seems to be hitting these heady heights already... is the 'world of theatre' and income so different there? and how about the earnings for cast - how do they compare?
    Week Ending figures at August 2015
    a few top priced examples...
    The Book of Mormon Top price $477 - £304 (Sat 5/9 - current top price in London £202)
    Average paid $166 - £105 (currency converted to £)
    The Lion King Top Price $225 - £143 (London £99.70)
    Average paid $164 - £104
    Wicked Top Price $240 - £153 (London £125)
    Average Paid $128 - £81
    Kinky Boots Top price $299 - £190 (£99?)
    Average paid $96 - £61
    Beautiful Top Price $299 - £190 London £127.50)
    Average $121 - £77
    Mamma Mia $225 - £143 (London £99.75)
    Jersey Boys $199 - £126 (London £99.00)

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