Archive for March, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest – The Vaudeville Theatre (with Penelope Keith)

March 30, 2008

I was pleased to see that only a few months after opening and with very strong reviews, The Importance of Being Earnest had finally made it to the TKTS booth and the joy of 25 quid main stalls seats. Hurray! So we decided to have an impromptu Friday night “top quality” theater outing along with Wechsler and Cate (from my office) and go see this Wildean gem, which I had managed to utterly miss in my twenty-two odd years of actively and eagerly going to plays. Sure, I’d read it, but there is nothing like seeing a literary masterwork come to life in front of your eyes (unless it’s a horrible movie you’re talking about – I am only referring to theatrical masterworks), and the heavily loaded text of this show really benefits from getting off of the page and into (and out of) actors’ mouths. Suddenly it all seems like a dinner party attended exclusively by six Dorothy Parkers, only with a bit of plot to hold together the bon mots, or, rather, to give them a little something to hang upon.

The plot? Oh, I’d long forgotten it, and in fact I’d forgotten it enough that I did not remember a plot twist or two. Let’s say that it involves some gentlemen who are most clearly not named Ernest and there’s something about a handbag (rather like the handkerchief in that other play). There is also tea (served twice!), mistaken identities, and a lot of very clever jokes. Actually, there’s pretty much nothing but some very clever jokes that begin as tea is about to be served and end darned near where the handbag shows up, so perhaps these other items are superfluous.

That said, this really was a gem of a production of this clever little play and there’s a lot to recommend it if you like shows where you have to actually listen to what the actors are saying (a habit sadly thrown by the wayside in this era, and one which doesn’t actually seem to help one understand what’s going on when watching Pinter). The initial set is a lovely, gilded Japonaiserie room with a wealth of detail – it looked very appropriate for the time (unlike the costumes which were a complete hodgepodge, at least for the women) if perhaps far nicer than it would have. It was very Whistler, somehow. The second two sets, in a garden and in the front room of a country house, were fine but not nearly so absorbing.

The acting, though, was really what this show was about, as the characters could have done it in street clothes in a black box and still made it come alive. The men (Algie and Jack) were, well, as interchangeable as I recall them, with Algie being slightly more gay (Wildean, perhaps) and Jack a bit more whiny. The women … well, I have to say, seeing this after learning so much more about Victorian behavior, I found them very much not at all like I think real Victorian women would behave and speak! But, then, they were just characters in a play, and each of the actresses made her characters come brilliantly to life, even though Gwendolyn (Daisy Haggard) had a completely bizarre accent – it almost seemed like it was via New Jersey. I even loved Miss Prism, the prior, and the butlers! It was the kind of top-notch crew that one really only seems to get in London – effortless perfection from everyone involved.

At any rate – a very good night out, and highly recommended!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 28th, 2008.)


“Cor Blimey! It’s a Right Cockney Knees Up!” – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

March 30, 2008

I am a big fan of a singalong, and when I was invited to this event, I was quite excited. Cockney culture! I know nothing about it, really, and I was really looking forward to an evening of good songs, good drinks, and good laughs with my good mates.

How little did I know.

When we showed up at 7, it turned out we were actually the first people to arrive. They weren’t ready to let us into the venue, so we were forced to sit – er, stand – in the lobby. We overheard that we couldn’t be let in because there wasn’t any “security” there yet (not sure exactly what this consisted of), and then I was told I couldn’t be let in without checking my purse – and that I’d be obliged to pay for the privilege! Seriously, what kind of place separates a lady from her handbag? I wound up having to go through it and pull out my wallet, my phone (since we were waiting for Josela to join us still and he didn’t know where to go, exactly), and my makeup and carry it all in my hands. It was ridiculous. The door staff was also unprofessional and didn’t handle my reservations very well.

We walk into the hall and … with about 15 tables, all but two of them were already reserved! How could that be? There was no “pre-reserve a table” option on the ticket buying form. When we had a hard time finding a non-reserved table, the women who were inside the hall were positively snarky to me. There was also a photo stall that wanted ten quid to take our picture (please! They could just email it to us for free!) and a gin punch booth, where we were obliged to stand next to the table so that they could keep an eye on the cups the gin was being served in. Meanwhile several women strolled around in pseudo-Victorian garb – as if anyone back then wore their corsets over their shirts! The whole thing came off like a very unprofessional, and yet very elitist, joke.

Well, we settled down, got ourselves a round, were joined by Josela, and waited for the entertainment to begin – deciding to skip the further expense of photographs but picking up a set of bingo tickets. What we got were some Pearly Kings singing songs off of their computers (not really so much inviting the audience to participate), a cute poetry performance by Madame Jo King (I really liked her), and … a woman doing the most horribly off-key rendition of “Mother Brown” you could imagine. At first I thought it was just a joke, as there’s a line in the song about a bad singer, but then I thought that she just couldn’t really hear the key the piano was being played in. This was supposed to be a singalong, but hardly anyone in the crowd was singing at all! We even had the lyric sheets printed up on our tables. I don’t know, maybe part of the problem was that nearly ALL of the crowd was at the back of the hall while the “reserved” tables were, nearly to a man, half-empty. So much for any kind of sense of community.

Then there was a bit more of something else (lord, I’ve forgotten, and Miss Lolly LaDiDah stole the program off of our table to give to someone else without even bothering to ask so I can’t refer to it), possibly the Pearly Kings, and then there was the very very long bingo game. I can’t believe they decided to do a blackout for the first game – even with the bizarre, tiny English bingo cards, it took a long time to get a single person’s card full. (That said the middle aged ladies at the table across from ours actually had brought bingo markers with them, bless their hearts. I wished I’d been sitting with them – they seemed to have just the right spirit, unlike most of the people there.)

After the third Bingo game was over, they announced an intermission, and we all decided to head for the hills and find our fun elsewhere, since so little was to be had in the hall. No amount of gin in the world could have made that a good night. And the friend who had brought me there, well, she felt mortally offended at the attitude of the people there, basically making Cockney into some kind of big joke for everyone to laugh at (“with the exception of the Pearly Kings and Queens and the bingo ladies”). I knew just what she meant – there’s nothing like having someone take your treasured childhood memories and turn them into something to show off for art snobs as if it were a bizarre zoo animal, “Oh, let’s play at being poor, what fun!” We even had the pleasure of watching one of the doormen turn away some South Asian kids at the door, telling them, “It’s not really your kind of thing.” Maybe he thought racism was a Cockney thing, but I think when you’re poor, you need to hang together, not set up more bullshit barriers between neighbors.

Anyway, we went around the corner to a little Indian takeaway with just three tables and were made to feel more at home than we had all night at the fake Cockney culture event, with lovely people visiting everywhere and just acting like Folks At Home. That’s the real London, not some well-monied office worker in a corset and her jammies singing songs she’s only ever heard on YouTube before. And this is what saved our evening from being a total waste. Thank God for cutting our losses and leaving when we did.

(This review is for a performance that took place Thursday, March 27th, 2008.)

Royal Ballet Mixed Rep: Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun,” Balanchine’s “Zigane” and … something by Wheeldon

March 26, 2008

Last night I went to Covent Garden with Josela and Mabel_Morgan to see the mixed bill on offer. I hadn’t initially been too tempted, as I have yet to see a dance incorporating video that I’ve liked; but when I read that Carlos Acosta was going to be strutting his stuff AND there would be a Jerome Robbins piece, I was sold – especially when I realized I could get Ye Olde 5 quid day of show tickets. Color me shallow, not in the least because I decided I could leave without seeing the last performance (by Ashton, who’s still very “whatever” in my book) and then have some much needed time to pack. Oh well, I guess they wouldn’t have two intermissions if they didn’t want to let us leave without disturbing everyone else.

So, the Wheeldon – “Electric Counterpoint,” brand new and all, only on its fifth performance. Can I mention the night started extremely well, thanks to getting a free, bad-work-memory-erasing, second round of margaritas at Wahaca? Anyway, music credited to Bach and Reich – I was happy about that. But. Oh, the but. The dancers each came on stage for little solos, accompanied by some Bach and their own voices speaking about how they felt about dance and while dancing, while a video of him/her performed behind on a screen, sometimes mirroring them, sometimes illustrating what they were saying. It wasn’t bad, the dance and the video, but the movement was uninteresting (sadly on both parts) and the voiceovers were vapid. I mean, gosh, I’m sure the dancers are nice people, but all of it was a distraction from the dance, and the dance wasn’t good. Mabel said the whole thing reminded her of “Creature Comforts,” a TV show (I was told) in which normal people answer questions and their answers are then reproduced as claymation. Horribly, I think she was right.

The second half of the piece benefited from having nothing but the live Reich to listen to, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have a lot of energy or excitement – a quality sadly shared by the action on stage. I’ve seen Wheeldon do good couple work, and there were some moments when I got lost watching two people just dancing with each other, but mostly I just had no response to the performance at all. The videos weren’t always aggravating and I was mostly able to ignore them, but … it just seemed like a big failure to me, one of those pieces that will get revived one more time and then fall out of rep. So it goes.

Next up was Jerome Robbins “Afternoon of a Faun,” which, to my surprise, I realized I had seen before the one time we’d seen City Ballet in New York. It’s a clever play on the traditional story, with a sexy dancer lounging about in a studio, but to be honest what I really want to see is the original choreography. I aslo wanted it to be longer. And I wanted a pony.

Finally it was time for “Zigane,” a Balanchine piece I’d not seen before. It was kind of fun and certainly better than the Martins I’d seen the night before, but in no way mindblowing – fun, well-executed filler that he probably crapped out at a nickle for the dozen back in the day. We all left together; if I’m going to be convinced of the genius of Ashton, it’s far more likely to happen at Sylvia than during a short work.

(This review was for a performance that took place Wednesday, March 19th, 2007.)

Spring Dance at the Coliseum – City Ballet’s “Four Voices: Wheeldon, Martins, Bigonzetti, Ratmansky” Program – London Coliseum

March 19, 2008

Last night’s performance of City Ballet was a great chance to sample the work of several newer choreographers. The first piece was by Christopher Wheeldon, formerly in residence at City Ballet and now working with his own company and the Ballet Boyz to keep ballet relevant for modern audiences. His “Carousel” was a homage to the great musical of the same name, but, when stripped down to a few themes and clumsily illustrated with dancers carrying poles and moving in circles, it just seemed … watery. The girl was lonely, the man was arrogant, there were overtones of can-can girls and seediness in some of the group scenes … but it was hard to care. It made me briefly think that a danced “Lear” would be nice, then I remembered his “Elsinore” and I thought, nah, Wheeldon just doesn’t seem to get emotional connection and the kind of stuff that makes you invest in a story. Oh well. Maybe Matthew Bourne will give it a try.

Next up was a little frippery of a Russian piece, Peter Martin’s “Zakousi,” a duet complete with big boots and sparkly “Ballet Imperiale” glitz (for the woman). But that was the end of the glittery and wow. Instead of stylish pyrotechnics on stage and the showy, over the top style I’ve come to love from the Bolshoi, this was watered down and whingy. It was like some horrible fusion cuisine that eliminated all of the spices “to better suit the locale palate.” Fortunately it was short.

The highlight of the evening was next; a piece by Mauro Bigonzetti, an Italian choreographer who counts Balanchine and Forsythe among his influences. “In Vento,” it was called, which while it might mean “in the wind” (I think), to me also seemed appropriately misheard as “inventive”. I could see it, too, in the harsh poses of the women (with arms over their heads, like birds of prey, and their costumes, very Forsythe) and the very complex and yet smooth twining of a pas de quatre a la Balanchine. But his four were men, and he had them rolling onto each others’ arms, then being picked up and carried backwards with the combined strength of their numbers; and both sexes posed, angular and angrily, in a way I somehow found very Italian. It was a great showcase for the athletic skills of the troupe, and even found time to be tender and vulnerable. I’ll be looking for his work again.

The final bit was “Russian Seasons” by Alexie Ratmansky. The funny turban hats made this look more ethnically Russian, but what was very cool was the singing (by Irina Rindzuner) – the kind of strange, rising up at the end female vocals I associate with the Hungarian women’s choirs. This dancing was much more … I don’t know, unselfconsciously Russian than the Martins piece. It really seemed to tell different stories, with the people (five couples?) taking care of each other, ignoring each other, falling apart … it was enjoyable to watch but I think somewhere around the last fifteen minutes or so I just got worn out and gave up the ghost. It was fine, it just wasn’t … energetic enough. And it was too long.

So for a balletomane like me, this was a good night out, as I’m always hoping to find a good new choreographer and they are few and far between. Seeing this backed right up against the Jerome Robbins night like I did really reminded me of how there’s really a special something that makes a choreographer great – and while a lot of people might spend time with dancers, very few of these people will ever really achieve greatness.

(This review was for a performance the night of Tuesday, March 18th, 2008. Casting was as follows: TUESDAY EVENING, MARCH 18, 7:30 P.M.
(Conductor: Karoui)
CAROUSEL (A DANCE): Peck, Woetzel
ZAKOUSKI: Borree, Hübbe+
IN VENTO: *Reichlen, Millepied, Fowler
RUSSIAN SEASONS: Krohn, Whelan, Rutherford, Evans)

Spring Dance at the Coliseum – City Ballet’s Jerome Robbins Program – London Coliseum

March 13, 2008

Tonight was an evening I’ve been anticipating since August (yes, I am that much of a geek), when I first heard that City Ballet was coming to London as a part of the Spring Dance at the Coliseum program (which is 85% City Ballet). It’s part of the reason I didn’t go to New York for Easter – I couldn’t see them while I was there, so why bother leaving town when I could just sit on my duff and see them here?

Anyway, tonight was the all Jerome Robbins program, and it was GREAT. The first piece was … oh man, it was like that first time you heard an album you’d been listening to on your grungy old boom box for years, and then suddenly you’re getting to experience it on a CD on a good stereo, and you’re all amazed because it’s ten times better and you’d never noticed there were strings and stuff in the background, and you can hear the singer breathing? Yeah, that was the first piece, “The Four Seasons,” with an utterly fantastic faun in the Autumn scene. I actually got caught up in the movement of fabric in the spring bit because it so vibrantly captured the energy of the dancer. And the winter scene was clever and funny! Who would think it would take Americans to bring wit to ballet? It sure seemed to shake up the night.

The second piece (Moves) was done without music, and I think it kind of freaked the audience out a bit (the woman behind me asked, “Where’s the conductor?”). It was basically a piece about performing, very self-reflexive in a kind of 1970s way, with moves I associated more with William Forsythe than something so much older. A scene in the couples section reminded me of Monet’s multiple studies of cathedrals and haystacks – showing how having different people interact changes the movement that is possible. The third piece, “The Concert,” was pure comedy of the “Look behind you!” variety and the audience laughed their heads off (ballet does lend itself to being made fun of, really) – a real crowd pleaser after the more strenuous piece that proceeded it.

Now I am so excited that I want to go see them again on Sunday even though I’m already going to see them on Tuesday. I just hope I can get someone to go with me (and that I can afford tickets). Sure, it’s Balanchine, and I’ve seen all those pieces again, but THIS time it will be perfect. Aaaaaaah. I love it.

(This was a review for a show on Thursday, March 13th, 2008. Casting was as follows: THURSDAY EVENING, MARCH 13, 7:30 P.M.
Conductor: Kaplow
THE FOUR SEASONS: JANUS: Fowler; WINTER: J. Peck, M. Fairchild, Hendrickson, Carmena; SPRING: Gilliland, Mearns, J. Angle;
SUMMER: Shepherd, Rutherford, Hanna; FALL: Seth, Bouder, Millepied, Ulbricht
MOVES: Krohn, J. Angle
THE CONCERT: Hyltin, Higgins, Piskin, Laracey, Pazcoguin, Veyette, Muller, Laurent, Peiffer, J. Peck )

“The Lover” and “The Collection” – Comedy Theatre

March 11, 2008

Let’s start by saying I like Pinter. I like him a lot. In fact, I have it as a goal to see all plays by Pinter (and he’s not dead yet so there may be more to come, which I’m kind of excited about. New plays by someone I worship! If only I could be so lucky with Ibsen).

I like Pinter because he treats his audience like we’re smart. We don’t need to be spoon-fed, we don’t need extensive back story (because well-written characters make it for themselves when they’re on stage). We’re intelligent, skilled, thinking audiences who can draw their own conclusions about what happened on the stage without having to be told how we should feel about it at the end (let us all cringe about Neil Simon and most of the touchy-feely crap Sharon Ott produced at the Seattle Rep).

In fact, Pinter often leaves enough holes that his plays are little puzzles, and I feel that it’s my duty, as the person he is writing for, to struggle my way through them when I find myself not sure about something that I just saw. Fortunately, I’ve got the rest of my life to think about them if I want, but I’m grateful that even if I don’t get the answers, at least I’ve got things running through my head that are worth debating with other people after the show, when half of the time I come out of the theater going, “Right, done. Can you pass me the London Paper?” So off we headed (Whinger_Phil, J, and Sue), four hard-core theater fans, for what promised to be a grown-ups night at the theater. (And I must say there were no people talking loudly about the show like there was at Dealer’s Choice – it was a much more savvy audience.)

Pinter performed by English actors at the top of their game is ace. J and I had even seen Gina McKee before, in another Pinter production at the Donmar (Old Times), and she was glowing and witty as the wife in The Lover. Her banter with her husband was incredibly naturalistic, without any of the car-changing-gears clunkiness of Pinter done badly; even the silences were handled easily, breaking at the point when you would expect people to finally speak to each other. We laughed most of the way through, and when things got tense, we were really on the edge of our seat. It was a puzzle; we did not know what the solution would be, and watching them work their way through it was great.

The second half had us in for a Pinter take on Rashomon, in which several people have very different takes on the same events. With the married couple acting in the same space as the, er, male couple (their relationship wasn’t made clear but I was pretty sure the younger half, a very yummy looking Charlie Cox, was a rent boy), it was a bit difficult to figure out what the relationship of the four was – and just when you got that sorted out, the various people started crossing lines again.

So I walked out of the theater not knowing who had done what to whom in the second piece, and then today realized I apparently missed something glaringly obvious about the first play that totally changes the meaning of pretty much everything I saw. I’m not going to spell it out for you, but I should say that getting a program would be a good thing for me now and then, if only I wasn’t so damned cheap.

At any rate, if you’re going to blow your money on theater tickets (they can be had for 25 quid but I saw nothing anywhere advertising them for less) and you like a good puzzle, I highly recommend this set of plays. It was a great night out, the acting was top of the line, and you’ll never look at bongos the same way again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, March 10th, 2008.)

“Dealer’s Choice” at Trafalgar Studios

March 11, 2008

Last Tuesday we went to Trafalgar Studios to see “Dealer’s Choice,” following a fine review from the West End Whingers. I dragged along my usual co-conspirator J. as well as Wechsler, figuring a play about poker would be a guaranteed win for an occasionally less-than-enthusiastic theatrical attendee. (J was of course as excited about going as I was.)

Dealer’s Choice is a perfect boy/girl date show, much like the movie Grosse Pointe Blank. The normal “ooh, ick, we’re in the theater” is overcome by the macho atmosphere of poker playing. Well, that’s a fair description, because what this is is, simply, a great play. Set half in the kitchen and dining room of a restaurant and half in its basement (where the after the interval poker game takes place), Dealer’s Choice is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat story with a really interesting cast of characters (a la Ocean’s Eleven). I have to give credit to the great cast and the great writing – there were no minor characters in this play (a real contrast to another “all men” drama, Glengarry Glen Ross, in which every character seemed to talk in the same voice). The poker game becomes a power play between the different characters, and watching them attempt to psyche each other out and figure out each other’s weaknesses sucked me right in, even though my knowledge of gambling is paltry. (Amusingly, the cards played during the show matched exactly what the characters said they’d been dealt – quite a feat of stagecraft in my book.)

At any rate, at £21 per ticket (easily available at half price if you buy online), Dealer’s Choice was a great play and a great night out. I highly recommend it.

12 best ways to get cheap theatre tickets in London

March 2, 2008

After seven years on the ground in London and with over 900 plays / concerts / ballets / operas under my belt, I’ve become an expert on how to get cheap tickets to shows in London. My friends ask me how I do it, especially when I’ve got tickets to something that’s sold out and juicy and they can’t find a thing. Well … I do have a few tips and tricks, and I’m more than willing to share them with everyone else. I rarely pay more than twenty pounds for a show, and apparently some people consider this shocking – how do I do it when tickets to so many shows are going for forty, fifty, even sixty quid? Well …

First tip: it’s the day of the show, you want to get cheap tickets, and what do you do? The TKTS booth in Leicester square is a great place to check (especially for shows at Sadlers’ Wells, if you can somehow manage to get back up there once you’ve made it to Leicester Square – a bit of a trick). That said, prices here tend to run around 30 for most shows, and it turns out that’s too expensive for me – but then if you ask for something in the balcony, suddenly the prices drop (it seems they don’t volunteer anything but the best seats without prompting). Save yourself the trip, though, and look at their offerings online – they change daily by around 11 AM. Even our first day we discovered …

Just in: very nice post from VampireSoup on theater for under a tenner, do read!

Second tip: buy directly from the box office of the theater, where you can get tickets for even less than the TKTS booth (though not for main floor tickets). Unfortunately, running around from one theater to the next can be pretty time consuming, so you’ll want to use websites to save time. If you do this, note that it can be hard to tell if you’ve actually Googled the correct site for the theater in question. Be sure to pay attention to the content of the website: any websites you see that have lots of ads for other shows at other theaters on the side of the page are likely to be from ticket touts. There are a whole series of theaters that belong to two theater chains and are very difficult to buy tickets for directly if you’re trying to Google your way there. These chains (the Delfont Mackintosh and the Ambassadors group) together comprise the Gielgud, the Noel Coward, the Novello, the Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, the Queen’s Theatre, Wyndham’s Theatre, the Comedy Theatre, the Donmar, Warehouse Theatre, Duke of York’s Theatre, Fortune Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre, Piccadilly Theatre, Playhouse Theatre, Savoy Theatre, and Trafalgar Studios. I’ve put the link for the groups behind those names; if you buy directly, you’ll be guaranteed a straight price and the lowest booking fees. (Need I mention – never buy from Ticketmaster unless you love paying extra for everything.)

Third tip: save yourself a pile by sitting further from the stage. This is my number one way of saving money: buy from theater’s box office or website and get tickets IN THE BALCONY. For Americans, floor seats are called “stalls” in England; balcony seats (sometimes in a “grand tier” or a “second tier”) will almost always cost less than stall seats. TKTS will sometimes have these seats for sale, but not always. For the Royal Opera House and the London Coliseum, these seats are real money savers – sometimes more than eighty pounds less than stalls seats! Usually you’ll still have clear sitelines. My only word of advice: the top balcony in the Palace Theatre, where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is playing, is WRETCHED. Pay more or miss half the show – cheap tickets to Priscilla are a poor value. Um, also, the side stalls anywhere in the Royal Opera House are always a crapshoot, with anywhere from half to two thirds of the stage hidden. (Fortunately their website has a little feature to show you exactly the view from where you’re sitting, so you can at least be warned, and if you’re looking at paying 6 quid for the Bolshoi, you’d better expect to not be getting much.)

Fourth tip: While they irritate me a lot at times, these guys can really save you a bundle, although you’ll save the most if you book a month or more in advance. Sometimes they don’t really offer deals at all, especially, say, for Hairspray: for that play, you’ll likely save more closer in if you book through SeeTickets. I don’t use general ticket consolidators, but LastMinute can be really great and will usually equal the price of day shows at TKTS, only without the hassle of having to go to the booth in person and then truck back to the theater.

Fifth tip: buy in advance for popular shows. Missed Othello at the Donmar? Sad about getting shut out of King Lear? Hot shows go fast and you had better pay attention to when the tickets go on sale so you can be first in line. I bought my Lear tickets four months in advance and could have sold them for four times what I paid for them. Sometimes my friends think I’m bizarre for planning so far in advance, but I’m the one who went to see Masque of the Red Death and they’re the ones wishing they could get tickets even for, oh, say, APRIL. Buying in advance will give you more price flexibility than buying the day of and will give you the freedom of not paying some horrible marked up price from a tout – even though you’re paying retail, it’s still only retail and not any more.

Sixth tip: right, so you are now desperate to see a show and it’s sold out. Suck it up and go to the box office, get your butt in line, and wait for returns. Americans would never think of doing this, but in London, well, there are people like me who buy tickets four months in advance … and get colds so dire they can’t get out of bed. Those forty pound apiece tickets? I’d actually like to get my money back for them, so I call the ticket and tell them to resell them for me. My loss, your gain. Maybe. Be aware you may only have the choice of a fifty or sixty pound seat when you’re doing this, and bring the cash to pay for it. Also have backup plans as there may be more people in line than there are returns available. And if you see a great review for a show early in the run, buy tickets right away; a small venue like the Soho Theatre can easily sell out within hours of a good review in The Metro.

Seventh tip: get a large group together and get a bulk discount. I know, for example, at the Old Vic, that a group booking can get you something like a 50% savings on tickets. I don’t have nine friends that can do the same thing at the same time, but you might.

Eighth tip: standing “seats.” This works for the Royal Opera House and the Donmar, which both hold out seats for standing for sale the day of show. though I’m not sure where else. I personally have done standing once or twice and won’t be doing it again; a three hour opera will really take your taste for this kind of theatrical experience.

Ninth tip (another one for sold out shows): be persistent. Hit the website again and again in the days before the show, and call the theater about every hour day of show and ask if they’ve had returns yet. I get shows this way for every show I want to see. Day of show, the Royal Opera House releases about sixty five seats when the box office opens, and you can buy them online (some of them for six quid, a damn fine deal for one of the world’s best ballet companies); the Donmar holds, I believe, ten seats for day of show sales but you can only get them in person. The National also holds a few seats for day of show at ten pounds each, also only available in person. This is how we got to see Coram Boy, and, I tell you, it was worth being a little late for work.

Tenth tip: see a show early. Previews are a budget conscious theater-goers friend, and often times it’s the first two weeks of a long run the theater will be working hardest to fill seats (and selling them on LastMinute). The Lyric Hammersmith (really not that far from the center!) sells tickets for the preview week at nine quid each for every show in the house – if they hadn’t, I would have never managed to see Alan Cumming in The Bacchae.

Eleventh tip: the Travellex £12 series at the National Theatre. There is really no better theater deal in town. Find out what is going to be on in the series, and just book your damned tickets as soon as they go on sale. If you ultimately can’t use them – I mean, you’re out TEN POUNDS. Just buy them. Buy them now. (Did I mention how great Major Barbara is? Well, so I heard from The West End Whingers, and, well, even if they’re wrong, it was ONLY TEN POUNDS. But I bought tickets anyway just based on their review, because they are usually spot on with the good stuff.)

Twelfth tip: become a friend of the theater. This is often not useful for out of towners, but my membership at Sadlers’ Wells has saved me piles (two free tickets plus a discount – in addition to their usual “buy two or more shows and save” discount), and my membership at The Donmar was the only way I could have ever made it into Othello. You’ll also get special deals in the mail (or email) that aren’t available to the general public, plus it’s a good way to support the arts. If you’re a Londoner, I recommend you do this and put your theater loving heart where your wallet is. After all, you’ve saved all this money – don’t you want to give it back to the people who do so much to make your free time a pleasure?

Thirteenth tip: try going any night but Friday and Saturday. I’m sorry, that’s when EVERYONE wants to see a show and is willing to pay for the privilege. Make plans for Monday through Thursday – more shows come up on TKTS, better prices are available through LastMinute, more people go, “God, I just can’t manage going out and going back to work tomorrow!” and return their tickets, and some theaters just flat out do differential pricing. I spend Fridays and Saturdays at the movies or hanging out with my friends and cram my shows in on weeknights; it’s not as glamorous as going out to the theater on a Friday, but then again if I’m forking out for eight shows a month, I can’t afford to see them only on weekends. And, truth be told, after seeing two shows already, I’m in need of a slightly quieter evening!

Fourteenth tip (new for 2009): I have to add that I’ve had a couple of theatrical miracles thanks to being on the Donmar’s Twitter feed (5 pound tickets to A Doll’s House) and the Ambassador Theatre Group’s email list (5 pound tickets to La Cage Aux Folles, this hits it as my best theater deal of the year). I’d surely subscribe to the Ambassador’s list – they manage so many theaters that you’ll likely get value out of it at least once or twice a year (plus they don’t email you too much, though most of their “deals” are 25 quid “best seats” that aren’t either deals or even “best” as I’ve ranted before).

Fifteenth tip (new for 2011): keep your eyes peeled for those ever important promotional codes. A really good place to find them is the Metro, though some other newspapers (like the Evening Standard) will also offer them. I recently found a website, Theatre Monkey, that has a good list of current codes for both theater and dance – a really helpful resource if you’re not able to collect a copy of the Metro every morning to see if some good deal has come up. And the Bargain Theatre website is also really good for deals, which they also broadcast through a Twitter feed ( @bargaintheatre ).

Sixteenth tip (new for 2013 but not really new): why not try some of the “fringe” theater spaces? Some of the best theater in London is happening at the Union Theatre, the Southwark Playhouse (or will be when they’ve moved into their new space), and the Young Vic, and there’s no doubt you will get a fine value for money for most shows at the (not really fringe) Menier Chocolate Factory and the Royal Court. And these are only some of the many wonderful venues available across London – there’s also the Almeida, the Arcola, the Finborough, the Landor Pub Theater, the Gatehouse … the list of great, affordable venues doing shows with top quality talent at bargain basement prices goes on and on. We really are spoiled for choice in London – so do yourself a favor, read some of the theater blogs, and look away from the West End now and then – you’ll be surprised at how much good stuff never makes it to a giant theater.

Seventeenth tip: Monday morning £10 ticket sales. For the Donmar, these are each Monday at 10 AM for shows that week: for the Royal Court, there are some ticket sales for their Monday £10 shows at 9AM the Monday of the show (both upstairs and downstairs), which is especially helpful for sold-out shows.

A final tip: for a show that’s going to run a long time, be patient. A lot of shows will run in London for a year or more, and just because you couldn’t afford to go for your birthday doesn’t mean you can’t get tickets four months later at TKTS or LastMinute. I’ve seen it for Spamalot and it will happen for Hairspray: after time, ticket prices will become more flexible, though this may occur around the time the original fabulous cast members head back to Hollywood/New York/their vacation home in the Riviera. TKTS provides a pretty good barometer on a daily basis of how well a show is selling, so use it as your guide as to whether or not you’ll be able to find price flexibility. If you haven’t seen it on the board for two weeks (and they’re actually selling it there), you will have to wait if you want to get it for less. (FYI, if you want to see Billy Elliot, just give up and buy balcony seats – that sucker never goes on sale. Over a month of watching it only came up ONCE on TKTS. I don’t personally recommend the show, but if you’re hot to go, just buck up and fork over the dough – and remember, balcony seats will run you £35, and since it’s what the market will bear … you’ll have to pay the piper … or try getting a group rate instead.)