Why I won't be renewing my London theatre friends memberships
For a long time, I've paid an annual fee to be part of various London theatres 'friends' schemes but over the past 12 months, I've been assessing their value.
Ultimately they are a way for theatres to raise extra money but I already buy a lot of tickets so the perks for paying extra need to be worth it.
Early access to tickets is pretty much the USP for theatre memberships and the reason I joined so many schemes. I like good seats, I like to be as close to the stage as possible.
I guess the fear of missing out has kept me renewing the memberships over the years.
Barbican offer discounts
Only the Barbican offers discounts on tickets and given that membership also gives you discounted cinemas tickets and free access to exhibitions, it's the only scheme which can pay for itself.
In recent years, theatres have been making a concerted effort to be more accessible to a wider variety of people. Hallelujah to that, it is really important.
But sometimes it has eroded the perks of friends memberships.
Take the Donmar Warehouse which had its Barclays £10 front row scheme a few years back.
Now I know the Donmar is tiny and the 'back' row isn't a shabby place to sit but I covet the front row. The thrill of being that close - having actors look you right in the face and, on one occasion, accidentally fall into your lap.
Before the scheme, I'd occasionally get lucky and nab front row seats during the priority booking but when the £10 front row scheme arrived it made it virtually impossible.
Payless without membership
Why pay £75 a year plus the cost of full-price tickets when I could potentially pay £10 to sit on the front row.
At the Young Vic, the staging is flexible - which I love. However, the problem is that tickets have started going on sale earlier and earlier so you can't choose a seat, just a price zone.
Your seat is allocated later when the configuration of the staging is determined but what the box office thinks is a good seat isn't what I'd necessarily choose.
Why pay annual membership when there isn't any advantage to seat choice?
I've got plenty of theatre friends who don't have friends memberships and almost always managed to get decent seats.
The advantage of having a membership and priority booking only seems to come into play when there is a big star in the cast but unless it's Tom Hiddleston appearing at the Donmar, it's rarely impossible to get a ticket.
At the moment, the only membership that seems worth keeping is the National Theatre because it means you get access to the Travelex £15 tickets which have traditionally been the first three rows.
That is changing though. Travelex has withdrawn from funding the scheme and front row seats seem to be harder and harder to get.
I've always seen a lot at the National because of the £15 tickets. I wouldn't see as much if the only option for a seat close to the front was paying somewhere in the region of £40-80.
Seats close to the stage
I want decent seats that aren't miles from the stage and if I can have them without paying eye-watering prices then all the better. Yes, I want to have my cake and eat it.
If it is something I desperately want to see I will pay more for a decent seat if that is the only option.
If Ben Whishaw is on stage I don't want to watch him through opera glasses for the sake of a £20-30 on the price of a ticket.
But I have to be selective for the sake of my bank balance.
So I'm not renewing my memberships when they expire and will see what impact there is on the seat choice and availability.
Do you have a theatre membership, do you think it's good value?
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