You know how people queue for Abercrombie and Fitch, or the iPhone 5? I like to queue for theatre tickets. “Why not just book them online?” demand my parents. Why set the alarm for 7am, or 6am, or even 5.30am?” Several reasons. I’ll try to explain.
Most London shows have a policy of holding back 10 or 20 seats, usually in the stalls and close to the front, and selling them cheaply on the day of performance to the folk waiting outside the box office.
The benefits of queuing – at least, the ones I use to spur myself out of bed – are, firstly, financial. Waiting in the queue means you can expect to pay anything between £5 to £25, with £10 as the norm. You’re almost always guaranteed a good view, with many theatres sometimes offering seats in the front row. Not only does this give you the chance to see a fantastic close-up of the action, but it also means you’re right beside the actors; something which can lead to excellent stories about hobnobbing with famous people. When my best friend and I dragged ourselves to Twelfth Night back in January, I found myself having a chat with Roger Lloyd Pack (known to my parents from Only Fools and Horses) whilst he bowed in front of me.
There are downsides to the queuing experience, of course. There’s the getting up early, and for many shows that’s early – the queue for Matilda starts getting busy at around 6:30. Because of this, queuing’s only really viable if you live in London or have somewhere to stay overnight. If you’re coming down to the capital and you really want to see a show, you may be better off booking online or visiting the TKTS booth (the clock-tower building in the corner of Leicester Square that sells discounted tickets), than racing to the theatre.
Then there’s the actual queuing experience, which can sometimes be another turn-off. On your own, it’s often boring; I tend to use it to get through my reading. But you may find yourself numb, cold, and bored to tears. Taking a friend is preferable; at least one of you can run and buy coffee as need demands.
As a London resident and a student, I think queuing is fantastic. It’s cheap, a chance for some quiet study time, and it means I can see plenty of shows without too much cost. Even the very worst queuing experiences are worth it for the show. A prime example: two years ago I saw the play Jerusalem, heralded as one of the best plays of recent years. It was December. It was hailing. It was sub-zero degrees and my hand warmer packs didn’t work. But it was worth it: I saw Jerusalem for ten quid. Those memories have lingered; but the frost-bite has not.