‘Who can afford them?’: theatregoers react to £395 tickets for Neil Simon play

Next year’s opening of Plaza Suite in West End, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, reignites affordability debate

When Plaza Suite, Neil Simon’s witty commentary on love and marriage, opened on Broadway in 1968, the most expensive seats in the house would have cost less than $10. The equivalent today would be about $88, or £71.

Next year, the show, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick, opens in London’s West End with tickets for premium “package” seats costing £395.

The sum has reignited debate about “sky-high” theatre ticket prices during a cost of living crisis.

After tickets for the hotly anticipated show went on sale this week, one poster on a TheatreBoard website forum said: “I can’t believe there are £395 tickets! Who can afford them?”

Another theatregoer said they had bought seats in the presale for £200 each and added that “the prices are crazy”. They wrote on a Tattle Life forum: “Top price were £395 and £300. Sky-high pricing, but regardless I think it will be a sellout.”

The £395 tickets were also a talking point on X (formerly Twitter), where people variously claimed this was an “eye-watering” and “outrageous” price to charge, though other observers pointed out there were cheaper options available.

The £395 Plaza Suite tickets include several extras: access to the Ambassador Lounge, three glasses of champagne, a dessert board, an ice-cream and a programme. However, there are seats a row or two back costing £300 that do not come with any extras.

Some tickets can be bought for as little as £25, and a limited number of £40 tickets will be available for every performance as part of an online weekly lottery.

A spokesperson for ATG said of the £395 tickets: “That price is a package price.”

Expensive though the top price tickets for Plaza Suite are, it is not a West End record. In May 2022, the West End play Cock came under fire after “dynamic pricing” meant the cost of some seats briefly rose to £400. After there was astonishment on social media at some of the ticket prices, the seats costing £400 were reduced to £175.

Meanwhile, top-price “dining seats” at the musical Cabaret, at London’s Playhouse theatre, cost £375 each, though for that, punters also get a three-course meal and half a bottle of champagne.

Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming production of King Lear at London’s Wyndham’s theatre, kicking off on 21 October, has some non-package tickets for sale, priced at £250 and £227.75.

In August, the actor David Tennant said that the price of West End theatre tickets could be ludicrous and risked strangling the next generation of theatregoers. Earlier in the year, Sir Derek Jacobi also criticised high ticket prices, and said that the cost of living crisis meant theatregoing was at particular risk of becoming elitist.

A survey by the Stage this year found an average premium ticket price of £141.37, though the cheapest tickets came in at an average of £25.44.

According to the Olivier award-winning theatre producer Patrick Gracey, top prices “reflect demand and the willingness and capacity to pay by those people who want the best possible seats”.

A West End play that might be years in the making “may only have nine weeks in which to recover its costs and make a profit. It is the theatre, not the production, that generates additional revenue from bar sales, programmes and VIP packages,” he wrote in the Stage.

“Most productions don’t recoup. That is the incredible challenge and inherent risk that producers and investors face on every single show.”

Claire Walker, joint chief executive of the Society of London Theatres/UK Theatre, said: “The average ticket price for a West End show has decreased by 7.8% when adjusted for the current high rate of inflation …

“Theatres are currently grappling with rising costs, and there has never been a more financially uncertain time to put on a show. Despite these challenges, there are still a variety of ticket prices on offer.”

Many tickets are bought by touts, who offer them for resale on unofficial sites at vastly inflated prices. When Tennant played Hamlet in 2008, tickets were offered by touts for more than £1,100 a pair.

Parker is making her West End stage debut in Plaza Suite after a successful run in New York last year. The Guardian gave it three stars; the New York Times said the play was haunted by the “ghosts of the #MeToo movement”.

On Broadway, the most expensive tickets cost $599 (£482).


Rupert Jones and Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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