1. The Royal Court’s 10p standing tickets
The single best-value theatre ticket in all of London is the Royal Court’s outlandishly cheap 10p standing ticket (kudos to them that it’s not quite free). They’re for performances in the bigger downstairs theatre only and may not always be available, but when they are, they go on sale one hour before showtime. Also excellent value are Monday tickets for both Court theatres. They cost £12 each and only go on sale online at 9am on the morning of the performance.
2. The Globe’s £5 standing tickets
The Globe’s famous ‘groundling’ – ie standing in the pit – tickets have remained at £5 a pop ever since the replica Elizabethan theatre opened back in 1997 years ago. Where standing tickets at other theatres shove you to the back, here you’re front, centre and often heavily interacted with. Not only a bargain, but a genuinely classic London experience that you should do at least once. As of 2023, half of the standing tickets have been put up to £10, but it’s still exceptional value.
3. The Donmar’s £10 standing tickets
The boutiquey Covent Garden theatre is renowned for its ability to bag big-name talent, and as such virtually everything sells out. But when all the seats are gone, there are standing tickets released every day at 10am – in person and online – that’ll get you plenty of change from a tenner and a decent view.
4. Youth schemes
If you’re under 25, London’s subsidised theatres will basically do everything but physically pay you to attend. If you are blessed with any sort of youth, always, always check the youth schemes before buying a ticket. Some of the best in town include the Donmar’s ‘Young Free’– which is genuinely free – and the National Theatre’s has special £5 and £10 tickets set aside for 16 to 25-year-olds for all productions.
A few years ago, Battersea Arts Centre declared it would become London’s first pay-what-you-can theatre, building on schemes by the likes of the Arcola and Theatre 503, which offer pay-what-you-can schemes on certain days of the week. The Vault Festival offers similar. They do try and steer you towards a suggested price, but if you can’t afford it, anything goes.
6. Day seats
Virtually every major theatre in London will have a limited number of good stalls tickets that will only go on sale in person when the box office opens that morning. Those that don’t – such as ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ – will operate some sort of alternative online scheme. These are rarely as crazy cheap as the ones listed above, but almost always represent a significant bargain: expect to pay about £20 for a West End show, even for a sold-out one.
There is comparatively little free theatre around, for the simple reason that even cheap plays are expensive to rehearse and stage. The summer is the best time for it, though: West End Live (June), Greenwich Docklands International Festival (June/July) and the NT’s River Stages festival (August) are the main ones.
Why not also check out Time Out’s exclusive offers with great deals and discounts on theatre and more.