When it comes to booking theatre tickets I’m a bit of a control freak. For my favourite venues, I have definite seating preferences that combine my desire to be as close to the stage as possible and affordable ticket prices (for some venues the front row is cheaper, or you can nab a bit of a bargain by sitting at the very end of an aisle despite the fact the view is actually unencumbered. Securing restricted view prices without any actual visual restrictions always feels like a small victory).
My friends humour my strange quirks (including my bizarre, bordering on superstitious, need to have an odd-numbered seat) because, generally, they enjoy my choices. I’ve found my theatre-going tribe, because theatre seating preferences are very subjective. In larger theatres I’ll still try for upfront stall seats, enduring mild neck ache for a clear view, while others I know would rather get the unencumbered view from the front row of the circle and spare their spines.
I’ve even done the front row at the ballet, which people “in the know” tell me is not the best place to sit to get the overall impact of the production. That may be true, but there is something beautiful in being able to see the dancers up-close as they work their magic. Maybe I enjoy the power of the individual performance above the art of the ensemble. Whatever the reason, I still have a wonderful time, and I’m a relatively recent convert to ballet.
However, when it comes to your standard show, the problem I have is with the bigger west end venues. They’re all slightly different with their own quirks (sit too far back in stalls in a venue with a minimal rake and you’re enjoyment of the show will soon be replaced by disturbing visions of decapitating the large-headed fidget in front of you). From obnoxiously flat seating, to awkwardly placed pillars, it can be hard to pick the right seat and I, like many, can’t afford the extortionately priced “premium” seats that have become a bit too much of a thing for my liking. A decade or so ago that tier didn’t even exist, but theatres have grown savvy to the ability to exploit those with cash to spare who want a guaranteed first class experience.
I want to create my own first class experience without being ripped off on ticket prices. So when the people behind seatplan.com approached me to have a play around on their site, I was intrigued. Now I can’t speak to how competitive their ticket prices are (they do also sell tickets, but I’d always recommend a quick google shop around before committing, as the best deals for any given show can vary dramatically at the time of booking) but I was impressed with the functionality of the site. Now I can get a great idea of the view from a seat in a West End venue I might not have visited in years (some of these shows run for so long, all my theatre booking ninja knowledge comes from smaller venues that tend to have short runs, pulling me in multiple times across a given year). Across the site they have 20,000 photos of views from different seats (sourced from the obliging theatre-going public) and 46,000 different seat reviews. From leg room (because the show is so great, people will forget to tell you to dress for straddling if you go to see Hamilton, as there is barely any leg room in the circle seats), to the view, seat plan crowd sources feedback so you can have a good idea of the quality of the seat you are booking.
Now if you’re short (unlike me) you might be happy to pounce on a limited leg room seat, if it offers you an unencumbered view at a reasonable price. Alternatively, you may want to decide if those cheap seats up on the side are too good to be true, or if in fact you have stumbled on a genuine bargain. Whatever your seat selection parameters may be, seatplan.com does provide a genuinely useful service to help you make your choices. Theatre is expensive enough without you spending the evening peering from behind a pillar at half a stage, when for the same price you might have had a better view from up in the gods. See, even I will admit that my beloved stalls are not always the right answer.