There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about the return of inflation to haunt those who are still trying to come to terms with the ravages of the pandemic. While the Bank of England keeps its head in the sand, economists murmur threats of the rate hitting 5% next year, albeit with a fair possibility that this will be a temporary blip.
Anyone who has tried to book tickets for the theatre in the last few weeks will already have identified rampant inflation of ticket pricing that makes 5% look like a dream. Theatre managers and producers will undoubtedly be able to provide full justification, having been closed for the best part of the year and then obliged to take on significant additional costs in running their businesses. Just when it seemed as if things couldn’t get worse, power prices then shot up to exacerbate the problem.
However, this will come as no comfort to those seeking a pleasant night out with a friend, partner or the whole family. Before even getting into current pricing levels, theatres and other entertainment businesses face a significant psychological problem. For whatever reason, the man or woman in the street has a nasty habit of fixing their attitude to prices at a point way in the past.
Many of us might remember the views of a parent or grandparent who could not understand why it should cost more than five guineas for the best seat in the house at a popular musical. The uninitiated might like to know that five guineas equates to £5 and 5 shillings or, in today’s currency, £5.25. Strangely, thanks to the efforts of a few far-sighted theatres such as the National, Granny might not have felt totally over-awed, with many tickets still sold at £15 a pop.
A similar anti-inflationary view could become prevalent amongst those who were used to regular theatregoing only a couple of years ago. They might very reasonably have assumed that top price tickets to straight plays should rarely cost more than £50, while even those featuring TV or film stars would only rarely reach £80.
There have always been premiums for musicals but, even so, with rare exceptions, upping those numbers to £75 for standard fare and £100 (those three figures represent their own scare story) for almost anything else was the limit.
Indeed, even these levels had only been ramped up recently, largely because visitors from the United States are used to paying far higher prices for Broadway tickets. This meant that when Americans visited London, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that the cost of a typical West End ticket would be roughly the same as they would expect to pay for an off-Broadway show.
Even at the levels quoted in the last couple of paragraphs, many were put off theatre trips when they compared the prices with other forms of entertainment such as cinema or relatively fine dining, though this would not necessarily apply to football fans, who have been paying through the nose for years.
This critic was shocked when a friend pointed out that top price tickets to see the revival of Cyrano were selling at £250 and even mediocre ones at £90. That first figure is not a misprint and means that a family of four would have to stump up £1,000 for the pleasure, even if they walked to the theatre, starved themselves and accepted that they would not be able to find out the names of the cast and backstage crew.
It is to be noted that anyone booking via the BTG ticket site could currently enjoy a bargain price of £233! Don’t all rush. Even tickets for a nuclear family would set them back the equivalent to over six years of Netflix subscriptions.
Without wishing to diminish the significance of Cyrano, most would agree that it should not fit into the premium category of a Hamilton, where tickets are booked out months or even years in advance. In that case, the rules of supply and demand have applied to force ticket prices up to unbelievable levels both at the box office and on grey and black markets.
In fact, for most popular musicals, the premium price range is typically £175–£210 at the moment, with Hamilton costing less than Cyrano today. This is an awful lot of money, especially as so many have suffered financial hardship over the last couple of years. It also means that theatre will once again become an elitist entertainment with everyone but the rich priced out of the market.
It seems inevitable that lesser theatres will be obliged to follow suit, increasing ticket prices significantly, albeit on a smaller scale. Once again, the consequence will be that the young and those from disadvantaged communities will not only feel but actually be excluded from an art form that we all love and everyone should get the chance to try.