Skip to main content

Theatre Tickets: London

Volume 796: debated on Thursday 28 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to address the cost of theatre tickets in London and any effect this has on theatregoers.

My Lords, commercial theatres in London are responsible for setting their own ticketing price structures. Theatres supported by the Arts Council also operate independently of government and have autonomy in setting their prices. However, many theatres in London operate schemes to encourage more people to attend performances through free or discounted tickets and audience numbers have continued to grow.

My Lords, as the Government are almost certainly aware, West End theatre is thriving at the moment. However, the price of a decent seat in the stalls, for example, has nearly doubled in the past three years. The Government may not be aware that the main beneficiaries of these higher prices are not so much the producers of the plays and musicals, but rather those who control access to theatres: the theatre owners, the ticket sellers and the discredited secondary ticket market. London theatres are already becoming too expensive for many regular theatregoers and I hope that the Government will take this issue very seriously. As we all know, one of the many reasons that people come to London is its theatres, but they are gradually becoming too expensive for anyone to be able to attend the major plays.

My Lords, the noble Earl has highlighted an issue at the very top of the range. Some of those ticket prices have gone up and I think the average top ticket now costs more than £100. However, there are many examples of theatres making a big effort to offer cheap prices. For example, the Donmar Warehouse offers free tickets to those aged under 25 each month via a ballot, while the Royal Court Theatre has discounted nights. There are many examples of where theatre seats can be obtained for much less than the top prices.

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that some of us wonder what this has to do with the Government? In saying that, if people do not go to the theatre in London, surely he should be promoting the wonderful provincial opportunities that we have in this country, be they in Manchester, Leeds, York or Newcastle—and indeed, in view of the Question asked by the noble Earl, in Glasgow as well.

My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. That is why the Arts Council spends so much money—an increasing proportion in fact—outside London. We are trying to promote the arts in general outside London and the Arts Council is taking very proactive steps to do that.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the study by the National Campaign for the Arts which shows that ticket prices in all areas of the arts are rising at a rate well above inflation because of the reliance on earning money from the public through ticket prices? The result is that the demographic has narrowed and attendance overall falls, while regional inequalities are exacerbated. Will the Government now seriously consider increasing public funding to address these concerns?

The Government spend just under £0.5 billion a year on the arts, along with providing £860 million of tax relief for the creative industries, so we are doing a fairly large amount already. My figures are slightly different. UK Theatre has advised that in real terms—thus taking inflation into account—the overall average price being paid for a ticket has risen by 2% since 2013.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as in the register. I wonder if the Minister agrees with me—I think he does, because he has virtually said it—that it is very misleading to look just at headline ticket prices. It is true that London theatres are expensive if you want the best seats in the stalls on a Saturday night, but it is possible to go to the theatre in London for quite modest sums. I also ask him to confirm that putting on a live performance of any kind, particularly at scale, is extremely expensive and very difficult to achieve, requiring a great variety of skills and talents. The more we support it, the more likely we are to find homes for all our young people who might be looking to those industries for jobs in the future.

I completely agree with the noble Baroness. As I said, the Arts Council specifically is looking at trying to increase the diversity not only of audiences but of people who work in the industry. For example, we will imminently announce the Youth Performance Partnerships, a scheme for five regional hubs for performance and drama. It will reach up to 10,000 young people over the next three academic years.

My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse. Given the lead this House has taken in delivering effective consumer protection legislation against unscrupulous ticket touts, will my noble friend the Minister do everything possible to promote face-value exchanges for ticketing to address the continuing blatant disregard of the law by companies such as Viagogo?

I absolutely agree with my noble friend, and I believe enforcement action has been taken against Viagogo. It is not 100% certain that it has complied with the court order, in which case it will be taken back to court. We take it seriously and, as my noble friend knows, have taken measures to crack down on the worst abuses in secondary ticketing, such as bots.

My Lords, I pick up on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope. So many of these smash hits playing on the London stage and so much of the talent, both front and back of house, come through the regional subsidised sector. However, it is struggling, partly because of local government funding cuts. Can the Minister assure the House that funding to this sector through the Arts Council and theatre tax relief will be protected in the upcoming spending review? I declare an interest as a trustee of the Lowry.

There are 186 National Portfolio theatres in the country, the vast majority of which are not in London. As for the spending review, we will advocate as hard as we can for the arts.